The Tryptophan from Turkey Does Not Make You Sleepy

Every year around the table at Thanksgiving, someone makes a joke about the tryptophan in turkey making them sleepy.  It’s almost become cliche’.  But, is it true? 

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?


A lot of foods contain tryptophan.  In fact, you probably eat one on most days.  Most meats have it, along with eggs, milk, peanuts, and sesame seeds, just to name a few.  In fact, if you eat the same amount of cheddar cheese and turkey, you would get 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 on the Thanksgiving table. 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 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.  If you do feel like you need a nap, try to keep it to 20 minutes, and don’t snooze in the late afternoon.