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Nutrition

Get excited about nutrition, and learn as you go with these information-packed resources on a wide variety of nutrition-centric topics! Our bistroMD experts review the importance of the macronutrients protein, fat, and carbohydrates, as well as how to make them work most efficiently for you.

Tryptophan – Does Turkey Make You Sleepy?

Following a holiday feast, a nap is commonly in order. But what exactly causes the desire to curl up with your favorite blanket after that meal? People oftentimes pinpoint the turkey, but is it truly the culprit?

Tryptophan – Does Turkey Make You Sleepy?


What Is Tryptophan?

Tryptophan is a type of amino acid, or a building block of protein. Additionally, tryptophan is among one of the nine essential amino acids, implying the body is unable to produce it on its own and must be obtained from tryptophan-offering food products. The notorious turkey, nuts and seeds, fish, chicken, cheese and tofu, and eggs are sources providing the essential amino acid.

Along with its association of protein benefits, tryptophan is required to synthesize serotonin. Also known as that "feel good" hormone, serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates mood. But the sequence does not stop there, as serotonin can heighten levels of melatonin. Melatonin has been utilized to manage and treat insomnia and sleep disorders, as it is often supplemented to induce greater sleep by controlling the body's sleep and wake cycles.

So, Can You Get Tired from Turkey?

Considering the progression from turkey ingestion to melatonin conversion, it appears rational eating turkey meat makes you sleepy. And though it certainly can, it does so in a more roundabout fashion. Greater feelings of tiredness are created by combining turkey with a carb-rich source. Though turkey is needed to fill the tryptophan tank, carbohydrate is indicated to "empty" it out. So when visualizing your holiday meal plate, a turkey leg is often paired with rolls, mashed potatoes, and casseroles. The total plate, filled with both tryptophan and carbohydrate, is suggested to induce sleepiness, rather than turkey primarily on its own.

All-in-all, linking turkey directly to increased sleepiness is a far turkey trot. Instead, the plate's totality and the mass quantity generally consumed may trigger the desire for some shuteye. The body may feel extra tired from using extra energy to digest all the food and from all the devoted energy used and needed to prepare the large feast.

Beating the Zzz's

If aiming to avoid that post-turkey dinner, try limiting mass portions of food. While indulging on the infamous holiday meal can in fact still occur, overeating does not. Reduce gorging risk and beat those Zzz's by...

...eating breakfast. Most people try to save up on calories by skipping out on breakfast. However, depriving the body of its morning energy may leave it feeling ravenous come turkey time. Eating a protein-rich breakfast can lessen the risk of overeating on large portions of turkey and carb-rich sources.

...utilizing small plates. Serving portions on smaller plates can assist in monitoring portion sizes, reducing the risk of overeating. Try offering balance to the protein-rich turkey meal by pairing and plating offered fiber-loaded veggies! The combination of protein and fiber are shown to induce feelings of fullness without overstuffing yourself.

...practicing mindful eating. Opposite of mindless, senseless eating, mindful eating promotes the utilization of the senses. Implementing the practice heightens food awareness by appreciating the smells, tastes, and other associated feelings. Mindful eating naturally slows down the eating process, which can innately surface hunger and satiety cues.

But whether sleepiness arises following the meal or related to the hustle and bustle of your day, cozying up to a nap may be the gravy on top of the mashed potatoes! Holidays are meant for enjoying time and relaxing with family and friends, so if desiring a peaceful nap, bistroMD says, "Go for it!"

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