Thanksgiving Day Sleepiness


SC Staff Writer

After eating turkey on Thanksgiving, many people say that they become drowsy.  This belief stems from the notion that tryptophan, an amino acid in the turkey, causes a person to become sleepy.  Is this true?

Actually, the consumption of turkey, stuffing, squash, mashed potatoes, and other foods that an individual may eat are what makes him or her sleepy.

The tryptophan does not directly cause a person to become drowsy.

Tryptophan is an amino acid that the body cannot make naturally.  This particular amino acid is one of the building blocks of niacin.

Niacin is more commonly known as B-vitamin. In turn, the B-vitamin helps to produce serotonin. Found in the brain, serotonin is a chemical that is associated with happiness.

Eventually, this serotonin can be converted into melatonin. melatonin is a hormone that can help regulate a person’s sleep cycle. Melatonin is naturally secreted from the pineal gland, which is a small gland in the brain.

In order for the tryptophan to be converted in this way, a person would have to consume foods containing tryptophan on an empty stomach.  On Thanksgiving, a day known for its abundant food, it seems highly unlikely that anyone would be eating just foods containing this specific chemical.

The turkey that many people ate on last Thursday did contain some tryptophan in it. Other foods also have some amount of this chemical.

For example, tryptophan can also be found in other meats, cheeses, yogurt, fish, eggs, and more. Chicken actually contains more tryptophan than turkey.

On its own, tryptophan may take a long time until it is able to enter the brain. It is a large molecule and cannot travel throughout the body easily.

With the assistance of some carbohydrates, the chemical finally makes it into the brain.  The carbohydrates are more likely to mix with tryptophan that has already been stored within the body, not the turkey that is still being digested.

This is why if you are trying to fall asleep, light snacks like air popcorn will help. This will give you the carb boost needed to help the tryptophan get by.

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