Does Tryptophan in Thanksgiving Turkey Make You Sleepy?
Thanksgiving is just around the corner! The table will be filled with turkey and all the delicious trimmings. After a hearty meal, many people venture off to the coach for a post-turkey, tryptophan-induced nap. This meat has a bad reputation for being the culprit of drowsiness, but is it really your turkey that makes you sleepy?
Turkey contains the amino acid known as L-tryptophan. Tryptophan is one of 20 naturally-occurring amino acids that are the building blocks of protein. Tryptophan produces the sleep hormones serotonin and melatonin and is found in meats like turkey, chicken, fish, lamb, pork, and red meat, as well as nuts, seeds, beans, oats, and eggs.
- 3 ounces of turkey or chicken contains 343 mg
- 3 ounces of tuna contains 243 mg
- 3 ounces of pumpkin seeds contains 483 mg
- 1 cup of white beans (cooked) contains 206 mg
So, you can see there is no more tryptophan in turkey than in other common foods. These other foods don’t generally make people sleepy. If it’s not the turkey that makes you sleepy, then what?
CARBS, GUILTY AS CHARGED
You guessed it, it’s a large number of carbohydrates consumed by the turkey that is the culprit! Carbohydrates are found in the stuffing, mashed potatoes, corn, yams, and even the pumpkin pie! When carbohydrates are eaten, it causes the release of insulin. Insulin is the gatekeeper that lets glucose enter the cells from the bloodstream. Interestingly, when insulin is released, it removes most of the amino acids from the bloodstream, with the exception of tryptophan.
Tryptophan competes with other amino acids to enter the brain through the blood-brain barrier. When other amino acids have been removed, tryptophan enters the brain and forms serotonin. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that affects mood and behavior, appetite and digestion, sleep, memory, and sexual desire and function. Serotonin ultimately gets converted into melatonin, the hormone that regulates our biological clock and sleep-wake cycles.
DON’T BLAME TURKEY
In other words, don’t blame the turkey for your sleepiness! It’s not the turkey alone, but rather the combination of turkey and an overload of carbohydrates that leads to the well known “Thanksgiving coma.” Go easy on the carbohydrate-rich foods this Thanksgiving and focus more on the turkey, green leafy vegetables, and salad for increased energy!