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Does Turkey’s Tryptophan Really Make You Sleepy?

A Thanksgiving dinner is on a table.
Bochkarev Photography/Shutterstock.com

You’ve heard the rumor. Eating turkey at Thanksgiving makes you sleepy because of an amino acid inside of it called tryptophan. But while the myth is widespread, is it true?

As it turns out, turkey’s tryptophan is likely not what makes you sleepy after your big Thanksgiving meal.

This rumor got started because it is partially based on truth. Tryptophan is used to create serotonin in the body, and serotonin is the hormone that helps with calmness. As tryptophan is being used to create serotonin, melatonin is actually created. We all know that melatonin helps you sleep. So it kind of makes sense that food with tryptophan could make you sleepy.

The reason why this isn’t true, though, is that you’re just not getting enough tryptophan in the turkey to make a real difference to your sleep. For example, when using tryptophan supplements, some take up to five grams according to this piece in the Journal of Nutrition. Your serving of turkey has around 410 milligrams, so you’d need to eat a whole heck of a lot of turkey to feel the effects.

Note: Always check with your doctor regarding supplementation and dosage before beginning any new supplements.

Circulon Nonstick Roasting Pan

Go ahead and roast that turkey.

So why do you feel sleepy after eating turkey? While it might play a slight role, what’s likely happening is you’re eating a load of carbs alongside it. Think about the pies, potatoes, rolls, and stuffing you eat at Thanksgiving. It’s carb-central on your plate.

When you overeat or consume a large number of carbs, your blood sugar spikes and then lowers resulting in a crash that makes you feel sleepy and less alert. Couple that with potential alcohol consumption, and that poor bird gets a bad rep for no reason.

This Thanksgiving, if you’re planning to have turkey but don’t want to get sleepy, try to eat smaller portions and make sure you’re getting adequate, quality sleep each night. But don’t blame the turkey if you need a few extra Zzzs.

Shea Simmons Shea Simmons
Shea Simmons is the Editor In Chief of LifeSavvy. Previously, she worked as a freelance writer with a focus on beauty and lifestyle content. Her work has appeared in Bustle, Allure, and Hello Giggles. Read Full Bio »
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