The Straight Dope on Tryptophan

Will eating turkey at Thanksgiving really make you sleepy? We’ve been told for years that this traditional holiday feast fowl is full of a chemical called tryptophan that acts as a sedative. This urban legend does contain a small dose of truth. According to the writers at TLC “Tryptophan helps the body produce the B-vitamin niacin, which, ­in turn, helps the body produce serotonin, a remarkable chemical that acts as a calming agent in the brain and plays a key role in sleep.”

Turkey does indeed contain a certain amount of tryptophan. However, so do many other foods from chicken and tuna to soybeans and bananas. When was the last time you heard about someone falling asleep after a holiday helping of tofu or banana pudding?

There’s another culprit for typical Thanksgiving drowsiness (besides getting up at 2 AM because you forgot to defrost the turkey). Overeating rich food with lots of carbs and sugar is all it takes to make most people feel sleepy. When your body is putting all its available energy into digesting that third helping of mashed potatoes, it’s no wonder all you want to do is slump on the couch and nod off!

Tags: Lifestyle