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Who would have thought that hanging out with loved ones and eating a bunch of great food could be so tiring? I’m betting a lot of you have experienced the fatigue that often comes after Thanksgiving dinner -- and yes, filling our hungry tummies with the usual fare packed with carbs, fat and sugar can be exhausting. But what if I told you there was a better way to combat this creeping sleep than turning in for the night?

Here are some tips for overcoming Turkey Day sluggishness:

Good: Eat Less

Most people are quick to tell you turkey makes you tired because of the tryptophan inside, leading to increased levels of serotonin (which makes you happy) and melatonin (which is the stuff that makes you sleepy). However, other foods have more tryptophan than turkey and don’t cause you to pass out when you eat them. The real problem is overeating the wrong types of foods, hitting your body with a one-two punch: The parasympathetic nervous system -- the thing that tells the body to slow down and digest -- has to handle more food than normal. Then, all of the foods rich in carbs, fat and sugars (practically everything at Thanksgiving) can cause rapid spikes in insulin, which tells your body to use glucose to give it energy. However, using too much glucose too quickly can leave your brain lacking the energy it needs to stay alert and awake. 

So don't gorge on everything on the table. Choose the foods you really like and go for smaller portions of each. Don’t be afraid to have what you want, but don’t feel the need to indulge in absolutely everything or keep eating until you have to loosen your belt a notch or two. 

Better: Go Outside For Some Wake-Up Fun

The best-laid plans often go astray, so if you do have a little too much to eat at dinner and start feeling sleepy, then it's time to go outside. Yes, really! Most people eat earlier in the day on Thanksgiving, so if the sun is still shining and the weather allows, get the family outside and have fun. Russel Sanna, Ph.D., upwave reviewer and executive director of the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, says, “A blue sky will help alert you. Light is the strongest biological cue to reset your circadian clock, so people feel refreshed getting out in the sun.” Once outside, toss a football around, go for a walk, play some Frisbee. Getting the blood pumping is always a great way to fend off the threat of sleep.

If you’re having trouble getting all the sleepy adults outside, don’t be afraid to get the kids involved. Never underestimate the persuasive power of a child’s seemingly endless amount of energy to get people up and out.

Best: Don’t Skip Breakfast

You might think skipping breakfast on Turkey Day is a good idea. You’re going to have a big meal later in the day, so why not, right? Wrong. "Skipping breakfast deprives your body of the energy it needs to wake up,” says Sanna. As a result, he says, "your body begins to crave carbohydrates." Our bodies want these foods because they offer a quick pick-me-up of insulin, but we've already talked about why a rush of insulin doesn’t help. So make time to have a healthy breakfast, and drink a glass of water with it. Combine the fullness effect of the water and a good breakfast and you’ll be more alert and more likely to avoid a post-feast food coma later in the day. 

Hopefully these tips will help you stay on your feet and out of bed on Turkey Day. If all else fails, “a reasonable nap -- around 20 minutes -- can be a really good refresher,” says Sanna. Just make sure you ask someone to wake you up so you don’t miss all the fun!


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