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Tryptophan Isn't Making You Sleepy On Thanksgiving

Tryptophan, a chemical found naturally in turkey meat, gets blamed for sleepiness after Thanksgiving meals. But science points to other culprits.
Posted at 4:08 PM, Nov 27, 2014

Ah, the Thanksgiving post-meal nap. Is there anything more glorious?

Of course, we can all blame that pesky chemical tryptophan in the turkey for our comatose states ... right?

It turns out tryptophan might be a bit of a holiday scapegoat left over from the 1980s, when tryptophan was sold as a popular sleep aid, according to LiveScience.

The belief in tryptophan's soporific powers is widespread. 

For Thanksgiving Day, 2014, Google even featured the question on its homepage. "Ok Google, what is tryptophan?"

"Tryptophan is one of the essential amino acids. Essential, because people have to get it from their food." "The body uses tryptophan to make seratonin, a brain chemical that promotes feelings of well-being and relaxation." (Video via YouTube /BitesizeScience)

Turkey does contain tryptophan, but here's a Thanksgiving bomb drop: turkey has no more tryptophan than pork or chicken! And the list of everyday foods that contain tryptophan?

Chocolate, milk, cheese, bananas, peanuts, oats, pumpkin and sunflower seeds ... it's exhaustive, and exhausting. 

In the past few years, science has tried to combat the notoriety on tryptophan's ability to produce extreme torpor. (Video via Everyday Science)

Headlines include "Don't blame the turkey this thanksgiving," "No, turkey doesn't make you sleepy" and "Sleepy on Thanksgiving? It's not all the bird's fault."

Most studies agree that it's actually the high-carb and high-fat food intake that is making you sleepy, by diverting blood flow to your digestive system and stimulating insulin release. (Video via YouTube / Bite Sci-zed)

So enjoy that Thanksgiving dinner to its fullest. Just remember that it's likely the sides, not the size of your turkey serving, that are putting you to sleep afterward.

This video includes an image from Alexis Fisher CC BY NC SA 2.0 and SuperFantastic CC BY 2.0.