Does turkey make me sleepy?

Health & Wellness Uncertainty and Misinformation

TL;DR: Not really.

We get it. Thanksgiving is exhausting. And it’s tempting to curl up in a blanket after the big feast to take a snooze and/or avoid doing dishes. However, the widespread myth that the turkey-induced trance comes from the amino acid tryptophan doesn’t pass the pumpkin-spiced sniff test.

Here are some relevant facts:

• Tryptophan is a naturally occurring amino acid found in many foods including poultry, pork, beef, legumes, eggs, and dairy products. In other words, it’s not only found in turkey. In fact, pork and cheese have more tryptophan per gram than your Thanksgiving turkey.

• Tryptophan is involved in the process of both serotonin and melatonin production, which may cause soporific effect. However, given the quantity of tryptophan found in a typical serving of turkey and the fact that the tryptophan is not consumed in isolation, there is no evidence that turkey itself increases human sleepiness.

• While there are some studies that have suggested that pure tryptophan consumption improves mood, placebo-controlled trials showed no effects.

• There are other holiday-related behavioral causes for postprandial sleepiness including consuming a larger than normal amount of carbohydrates and/or alcohol.

• In addition, fewer hours of sunlight in the winter months can also contribute to depressive symptoms, low energy, and increased sleepiness. To counteract this effect, seek out natural light in the morning.

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Additional Reading:

Scientific American: Does turkey make you sleepy?

CNN: Think turkey tryptophan makes you sleepy? Think again

Johns Hopkins: Does Eating Turkey Make Me Sleepy?

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