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Why Do We Get Sleepy After Big Holiday Meals?

It happened, it came and went!  The coveted Thanksgiving meal. Uncle Tom deep-fries the turkey; Aunt Kathy makes her famous mashed potatoes with enough butter to supplement an army, and drinks after drinks; after drinks. Everyone knows what happens next. You crash on the couch and feel as though you will never move again. This is not a rare occurrence. In fact, it probably has happened every year and will continue to do so. So, have you ever wondered why you can’t shake the sleepiness after a big meal? I will bless you with some knowledge before this Thanksgiving feast so you can at least know why you are falling asleep after you stuff yourself! Pun intended.

Sleepy…

Feeling sleepy after eating is not the food holding down your brain after you eat five pounds of turkey. It is just your body going through chemical changes as your body digests the food. However, feeling sleepy after a big meal can be caused by many factors such as the type of food you are eating, bad sleeping habits, and your health.

Your body uses a lot of energy and your body uses food as the fuel source. The body then takes that source of energy and breaks it down in the digestive tract; breaking the nutrients into glucose and giving energy to your body. During this digestive process, your body releases hormones that increase your blood sugar and create a feeling of fullness. At the exact same time your brain releases the hormone serotonin which makes you feel sleepy. Another chemical is released called melatonin and this is the main hormone responsible for helping you fall asleep.

Your body digests all food the same way, but not all food is the same and thus how it makes you feel is different as well. Some foods such as protein release an amino acid called tryptophan which releases the hormone serotonin; making you sleepy. Carbohydrates also have the same effect on your body, which is why you probably feel sleepy after eating a bunch of mashed potatoes. Overeating can also make you sleepier than you probably would get if you ate a regular sized meal. After you eat a large meal more blood is sent to your digestive system to help digest the extra food. This causes a temporary loss of blood and nutrients from the brain. No wonder I feel like I want to pass out!

Turkey Dinner making you sleepy

So how do I combat this post-meal drowsiness? Am I doomed to be a couch potato for the second half of Thanksgiving?

Drinking lots of water and limiting your sugar intake can help you feel less drowsy after big meals. Subsequently, you should try and eat many smaller meals rather than stuffing yourself with one large meal.

Lastly, not getting enough sleep will make anyone feel sleepy, let alone after a big meal. After you eat your body relaxes giving you a sense of wanting to sleep. If you didn’t get a good night’s rest, you will undoubtably feel sleepy, especially after Thanksgiving dinner.

Now that you know why and how you feel sleepy after eating a big meal, I’m sure you will temper yourself when you see all the food on the table, right? Ok, probably not. But at least you will know what your body is going through when you are sitting on the couch, eyes half open, trying to watch football.

Hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend!

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by Ray San Giovanni

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