As the common myth goes, you’re ready for bed soon after Thanksgiving dinner because the turkey you eat is loaded with tryptophan, which makes you drowsy and drags you into slumber. It’s a line often repeated, but it’s not true - Daniel Victor
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Can some foods really make you sleepy?
Roast turkey tends to get most of the blame for causing drowsiness. And anyone who has had their fill at Thanksgiving or Christmas is probably familiar with the sleepy feeling that arrives afterwards. But is it fair to blame the turkey?
The reason it’s a prime candidate for sleepiness is that it contains the substance L-tryptophan. But other foods have more. Sea lion kidney, for example, or if you are looking for something more everyday, egg white, cod or pork chops. I can’t think of a recipe that combines all these ingredients, but even if you were to succeed in finding one, it wouldn’t necessarily have soporific effects.
The idea that some meals make you drowsier than others…
No, turkey doesn’t make you sleepy
But it may bring more trust to your Thanksgiving table.
L-tryptophan vs. 5-HTP: Which is Better?
If you’ve ever looked at mood or sleep supplements before, you’ve probably seen 5-HTP on just about every one of them. Want to know why? As a chemical by-product of L-tryptophan, 5-HTP is also the immediate precursor to serotonin, which is then used to synthesize melatonin.
Truths and myths about tryptophan — and why it's so healthy for you
Tryptophan is a common scapegoat for Thanksgiving sleepiness due to its widely-reported presence in turkey. However, the compound is much more than a holiday punchline. It is essential to your good health year-round.
5-HTP efficacy and contraindications
L-5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is the immediate precursor of serotonin. It is readily synthesized into serotonin without biochemical feedback. This nutrient has a large and strong following who advocate exaggerated and inaccurate claims relating to its effectiveness in the treatment of depression and a number of other serotonin-related diseases.
A Time to Snooze
The real reason you’re so sleepy after your Thanksgiving meal.
Got Night Milk? A Possible Treatment for Anxiety, Insomnia
Night milk is rich in tryptophan, a sleep-inducing compound, and melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle, the study said.
Holiday Novelty Chemical Tryptophan Is Really Just How Your Brain Functions Normally
Put very simply: you consume tryptophan from the environment (in food) and your body facilitates chemical reactions that result in serotonin. With more serotonin in your synapses, you feel better.
No, the Tryptophan in Turkey Won’t Make You Sleepy
As the common myth goes, you’re ready for bed soon after Thanksgiving dinner because the turkey you eat is loaded with tryptophan, which makes you drowsy and drags you into slumber. It’s a line often repeated, but it’s not true.
No, turkey doesn’t make you sleepy – but it may bring more trust to your Thanksgiving table
Science has cleared tryptophan, though – it’s not the culprit when it comes to drowsiness after the feast. There are far more important factors leading to those post-turkey comas, not least of which is my Uncle Clarence’s story about parking at the airport.
Science-Backed Reasons to Supplement With L-Tryptophan for Sleep
All humans unknowingly experience the effects of tryptophan on a daily basis. That’s because tryptophan is responsible for the production of niacin, melatonin, and serotonin. Tryptophan cannot produce niacin unless the body has enough Vitamin B6, Iron, and Riboflavin, yet the role of niacin as a B vitamin means it’s essential for creating energy from food nutrients.
The Truth About Turkey and Tryptophan
Here’s the lowdown: turkey contains the amino acid L-tryptophan, which produces sleep-promoting serotonin and melatonin. But turkey has about the same amount of tryptophan as other meats. It may even have a built-in secret weapon against sleepiness: an abundance of protein, which can regulate insulin levels and actually combat fatigue. So don’t blame the turkey for your tiredness; the heavy load of carbs that made up the rest of the meal are likely the culprits.
Turning to turkey’s tryptophan to boost mood? Not so fast
So the sleepiness myth of turkey may be fading, but other legends around tryptophan’s effects in the brain are taking hold.
Why You Should Know About 5-Hydroxytryptophan
As a supplement, it is derived from the seeds of an African plant. You can buy it over-the-counter at most vitamin stores, and some pharmacies. It’s available in pill form of varying doses.
Can some foods really make you sleepy?
But even if you choose the right combination of foods, it won’t necessarily work for you. The 40 controlled studies of supplements of L-tryptophan conducted before 1982 showed that people did feel subjectively more sleepy and took less time to fall asleep, but there was less evidence that it could increase the number of hours people slept for, especially if they didn’t suffer from insomnia. And if the insomnia was severe, it had little impact. So it might only work for mild insomnia.
Tryptophan is commonly used to treat insomnia and sleep disorders, however, more research will need to be done to prove tryptophan is safe to use to treat these conditions.
Chemistry for Life
L-Tryptophan is one of nine essential amino acids for humans—“essential” in that the body cannot synthesize them, so they must be part of the diet. Fortunately, tryptophan is a constituent of many common foods, especially ones that are high in protein. In 1901, British biochemists Frederick Gowland Hopkins and Sydney W. Cole discovered tryptophan in the milk derivative casein. (In 1929, Hopkins was a co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of vitamins.)
It is not certain whether L-tryptophan is effective in treating any medical condition. Medicinal use of this product has not been approved by the FDA. L-tryptophan should not be used in place of medication prescribed for you by your doctor.
A few years ago, a new tryptophan-like supplement emerged in the U.S. marketplace. This supplement is called 5-hydroxytryptophan or 5-HTP. 5-HTP has been used in much the same way as tryptophan for the treatment of depression and insomnia, and for weight loss.
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Last Updated : Wednesday, March 10, 2021