WESTCHESTER, Ill.Thanksgiving is a day in which people typically experience sleepiness after indulging themselves with a heavy meal. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), to help assure a good night of sleep on Thanksgiving, stay active in the afternoon and avoid eating a large meal too close to bedtime.

Donna Arand, PhD, clinical director of the Kettering Sleep Disorders Center in Dayton, Ohio, and research assistant professor at Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine, says that the sleepiness feeling that is so common among people on Thanksgiving is probably due to the fact that the traditional Thanksgiving dinner is high in tryptophan, which has been known to promote sleepiness.

“Turkey is particularly high in tryptophan, while milk and other dairy products also contain tryptophan,” says Dr. Arand. “L-tryptophan is an amino acid in the body that is used to produce serotonin, a brain chemical involved in REM sleep. Research has shown that an increase in L-tryptophan produces sedation and can shorten sleep latency. So the sleepy feeling following a Thanksgiving dinner is probably the result of increased L-tryptophan.”

Ralph Downey III, PhD, chief of sleep medicine at the Sleep Disorders Center at Loma Linda University (LLU) Medical Center in Loma Linda, Calif., an associate professor of medicine, pediatrics and neurology at LLU, and an associate professor of psychology at the University of California at Riverside, says that, while tryptophan can play a role in one’s feeling of sleepiness after a heavy Thanksgiving meal, it is also likely due to the sleep debt that the person has accumulated over a period of time.

“Thanksgiving and sleepiness go together like turkey and pumpkin pie. The sleepiness that we experience may be partly due to eating, but probably mostly because of the fact that we are relaxing with family and friends or watching the traditional parades and football games,” says Dr. Downey. “We nap or feel drowsy because we are in a relaxed state. When we finally relax, our brain is primed for sleep from all the days when it has not had as much. It is probably much less the tryptophan in your turkey as it is the sleep debt built up in your brain that makes Thanksgiving a sleepy holiday.”

On average, most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep each night to feel alert and well-rested.

The AASM offers the following tips on how to get a good night’s sleep:

  • Do not go to bed hungry, but don’t eat a big meal before bedtime either.
  • Avoid alcohol, foods or drinks that contain caffeine, and any medicine that has a stimulant, prior to bedtime.
  • Follow a consistent bedtime routine.
  • Establish a relaxing setting at bedtime.
  • Get a full night’s sleep every night.
  • Avoid any rigorous exercise within six hours of your bedtime.
  • Make your bedroom quiet, dark and a little bit cool.
  • Get up at the same time every morning.

SleepEducation.com, a Web site created by the AASM, provides information about various sleep disorders, the forms of treatment available, recent news on the topic of sleep, sleep studies that have been conducted and a listing of sleep facilities.

AASM is a professional membership organization dedicated to the advancement of sleep medicine and sleep-related research.

To arrange an interview with an AASM spokesperson, please contact Jim Arcuri, public relations coordinator, at (708) 492-0930, ext. 9317, or jarcuri@aasm.org.

# # #