Sleep Myth Monday: Turkey and Tryptophan

This is the latest installment of a regular feature here at SleepBetter.org: Sleep Myth Monday, where we bust sleep myths wide open, or verify that they’re actually not myths at all.

Myth or Truth: That sleepy feeling you get after Thanksgiving dinner is caused by the chemical tryptophan, which is found in turkey meat.


Turkey meat does indeed contain tryptophan.  The body uses tryptophan in a multi-step process to make serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain that helps regulate sleep.  So, it would stand to reason that if you get sleepy after eating turkey, it must be the tryptophan that’s doing it … right?


Most meats contain tryptophan.  Other foods have it too.  In fact, if you eat the same amount of cheddar cheese and turkey, you’re getting more tryptophan from the cheese.  But, in neither case is there enough of the chemical present to make you fall asleep on the couch on Thursday afternoon.

So, if the turkey isn’t what makes you tired … what does?

It’s simple, really … the culprit is everything having to do with Thanksgiving. In fact, the holiday is one giant nap-inducing fiesta!  Any big meal that includes carbohydrates can cause sleepiness.  Your “turkey day” meal is chocked full of carbs, including potatoes, stuffing, vegetables, bread and pie. Add in a few beers or glasses of wine, plus some bad conversation with your Uncle Ned, and you have a recipe for an afternoon nap.

If you want to avoid that afternoon nap and perhaps see ALL of the football game for a change, the trick, as with everything, is moderation.  Enjoy all of the foods you like but don’t overdo it, and you’ll find that you’re not near as tired after your feast.