If you’re planning your Thanksgiving menu, you might be spending more time plotting how you can best camouflage your veggies so your dad will eat them without calling you a “health nut” than you are thinking about the meal’s main attraction. The turkey, however, is the most storied part of the Thanksgiving feast. It’s so iconic and ubiquitous this time of year that one of its key, sciencey-sounding nutrients has even become famous: the mysterious and misunderstood tryptophan.
Tryptophan is specifically mentioned by the characters as “that stuff in turkey that makes you sleepy.” But that’s not quite accurate. Well you might be extra tired after your meal, but don’t blame the turkey; it could just be that you overate. With potatoes, stuffing, yams, rolls, and pie on top of that turkey, you’re just inhaling a lot of carbs. (WebMD, 2019)
But what is exactly tryptophan?
Tryptophan is one of the amino acids, which the body uses to make proteins to help it grow and repair tissue. The body can’t produce tryptophan, so you must get it from your diet. Turkey is a good source, yes, but so is cheese, chicken, fish, milk, peanuts, egg whites, and more.
Although Tryptophan is also a natural sedative — it’s the precursor to melatonin, the hormone that tells your body when it’s time to sleep. (Today, 2019)
It’s All About Carbohydrates
The key lies in carbohydrates. When we eat them, our bodies release a surge of insulin, which clears the bloodstream of all amino acids — except tryptophan. When competing amino acids are removed from the bloodstream, tryptophan gets a straight shot to the brain, which boosts serotonin levels. So why do people feel tired after their Thanksgiving meal? It probably has more to do with the heavy carbohydrate load than the turkey itself. (Sleepscore, 2020)
Thanksgiving is also a time when many of us tend to overeat, and when we do, the digestive process is overtaxed, which also contributes to sleepiness. Throw a glass of wine or some alcohol into the mix, and we are ready to nap once the family feast concludes.
Is Too Much Tryptophan Bad for You?
While we need it to live, consuming too much can have negative effects. Foods high in tryptophan are also high in protein, and many Americans already eat too much protein — especially from animal sources. (Healthline, 2017)
We also need to consider the time of the year, as we all know that holiday schedules can wreak havoc on our sleep patterns. It’s no surprise that after all the traveling, keeping kids entertained, cooking for extended family, and partaking in other festivities, we’re falling asleep easily after a big meal.
So, this year don’t blame the bird for the “turkey coma.” Instead, embrace the opportunity to celebrate with loved ones, eat amazing food, and get some sleep! Happy Thanksgiving!
TodayShow. Everything You Need to Know about the ‘Turkey Coma’. 27 Nov. 2019, www.today.com/health/what-turkey-makes-you-sleepy-truth-about-tryptophan-t142417
Zamosky, Lisa. “L-Tryptophan: Does Turkey Really Make You Sleepy?” WebMD, WebMD, 18 Nov. 2019, www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/the-truth-about-tryptophan
“Turkey Sleeping Hormone: Why Do I Get Tired After Eating Turkey.” SleepScore, 28 Aug. 2020, www.sleepscore.com/why-youre-actually-tired-after-thanksgiving-dinner/
Alexander, Roberta. “Thanksgiving Myths: Turkey Sleepy.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 30 Nov. 2017, www.healthline.com/health-news/not-turkey-making-you-sleepy-and-other-thanksgiving-myths