How To Sleep Well On Thanksgiving

Baby Sleeping On Thanksgiving Pumpkin

You’d think everyone knows how to sleep well on Thanksgiving, and why they are sleepy.

It’s estimated that over 700 million pounds of turkey will be gobbled up this Thanksgiving!

Hopefully, you’ll eat your portion (or perhaps a plant-based substitute) surrounded by the people in your life that matter the most to you. Afterward wolfing down yams, gravy and other goodies, you might find yourself getting a little drowsy. 

Thanksgiving is maybe the only major holidays where sleep is an expected part of the celebration. After the feast, relatives retreat to the various recliners and couches to watch the football game but instead drift off to sleep. Traditionally, this post-banquet snooze has been attributed to the tryptophan in the turkey. However, the turkey and its tryptophan need to be officially pardoned. They aren’t to blame for the Thanksgiving food comas. 

Tryptophan is an amino acid that the body uses to produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that’s also an essential precursor for the sleep hormone melatonin. However, turkey typically doesn’t contain more tryptophan than red meat, pork or fish. You’d have to eat roughly five pounds of turkey in order to get about one gram of tryptophan! Most people eat less than a pound of turkey at Thanksgiving. 

Turkey probably ended up as the posterbird for tryptophan because it is the traditional Thanksgiving food, and people do snooze on Turkey Day after the big feast. However,it’s that carbs, overeating (Digestion takes energy!) and the alcohol that drive the holiday naptime, not the turkey. 

Now that the turkeys have been vindicated, there are a few ways that Thanksgiving can disrupt your sleep at night. First, there’s the possibility of heartburn and indigestion, plus caffeine, alcohol and more. Here’s a few tips for sidestepping some of the big sleep risks on Thanksgiving.  

How to Avoid Holiday Indigestion:

  • Eat your food slowly. Even though you might have to square off against Aunt Myrtle for the choicest piece of pumpkin pie, eating quickly can significantly increase your risk of heartburn. It’s not only uncomfortable in the moment, but it can keep you up at night. 
  • Schedule the meal earlier. If you can convince your family to eat earlier, around 3 or 4 p.m. This will allow your stomach to digest a great deal of the food before bedtime, making nighttime indigestion much less likely. 
  • Avoid spicy, fatty and tomato-based foods, all of which make indigestion more likely. 
  • Instead of heading for a prime snoozing spot on the couch after dinner, stay on your feet. Help with the dishes or go for a walk. You’ll have an easier time digesting your food. 

Caffeine: Not only can caffeine be a trigger for indigestion, it can also keep you from getting the sleep that you need. I generally recommend that people stop drinking caffeine at 2 p.m. That means, skip the after-dinner coffee and avoid other foods and beverages that have caffeine in them like chocolate, soda pop and ice cream.

Alcohol: If you’re sensitive to heartburn or indigestion, alcohol is another trigger. Like caffeine, alcohol disrupts sleep even if it doesn’t upset your stomach. It dehydrates you and makes it hard to reach the deeper stages of sleep. You’re also likely to have to wake up to go to the bathroom. 

It’s not just the food and drinks that can cause you to lose sleep. Keep in mind that stress can run high around the holidays, especially when it comes to the topic of politics. November is election season, and Thanksgiving seems to be the time that families get together and argue about the issues facing our nation. 

Although 2019 was a Presidential election off year (but, hey, who knows what kind of emotions local elections might have dredged up), 2020 will most likely be a doozy. People have been so stressed out by the political division in this country, that they are losing sleep, according to a recent study that is. 

Researchers surveyed 800 U.S. citizens and found that 40% of respondents said that politics was a large source of stress in their lives, and 20% even claimed to have lost sleep over politics. The stress even transcends party lines, so it’s likely you’ll finally have this in common with your cousin who is on the opposite end of the political spectrum. 

Since the majority of people are stressed out by politics, it might be a good idea to designate the dinner table a “politics-free zone.” That way, your family can sidestep uncomfortable conversations and everyone can go home and have a good night’s sleep without the added stress.

If you’re still feeling stressed out about the holidays, try my Sleep Doctor beginning of the night and middle of the night sprays. They can help you get into relaxed state at bedtime and fall back asleep easily if you do wake up with no groggy feeling in the morning (be sure the follow the directions). I’ve also written extensively on  how to avoid stress before bed. Don’t let holiday stress ruin your nights!

Indigestion and turkey talk aside, there’s a lot to be grateful for on Thanksgiving. I certainly hope that one of those things is consistent, restorative sleep! 

Sweet Dreams,
Dr. Michael Breus
P.S. If you have trouble sleeping I think you’ll really enjoy this sleep podcast interview I did with Kimberly Snyder of Solluna. We really dig into insomnia and I answer a lot of questions about other sleep issues that keep people up at night.

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Michael Breus, Ph.D - The Sleep Doctor is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and one of only 168 psychologists to pass the Sleep Medical Specialty Board without going to medical school. Dr. Breus is a sought after lecturer and his knowledge is shared daily in major national media worldwide including Today, Dr. Oz, Oprah, and for fourteen years as the sleep expert on WebMD. Dr. Breus is the bestselling author of The Power of When, The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan and Good Night!

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