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You may have noticed every year after you sit down for Thanksgiving dinner with your family one or more family members, or maybe even yourself, feel the need to nap. Many people will blame it on the turkey, traditionally the main course in their holiday meal. However, it isn’t necessarily the consumption of turkey itself that is making you sleepy.

The L-Tryptophan Factor

Turkey contains an important amino acid, L-tryptophan, that is not produced naturally in the human body. Tryptophan is introduced into our bodies solely from the food we eat. Tryptophan is found in foods such as cheese, eggs, fish, poultry, and yogurt. Our bodies turn tryptophan into niacin, a form of vitamin B that makes serotonin. Serotonin transfers impulses amongst our nerve cells and helps with our happiness and well-being. It has been proven that high serotonin levels help improve sleep. Why? Serotonin produces a hormone called melatonin, which is responsible for helping with our sleep and wake cycles.

Why so Sleepy After Turkey?

What many people don’t realize is that there is more tryptophan in a serving of chicken than there is in turkey. So why is it that we don’t see as many people undergoing a “chicken hangover” like they do turkey on Thanksgiving?

According to Elizabeth Somer MA, RD, author of various nutrition books, including Eat Your Way to Happiness, it is the number of carbohydrates we eat on Thanksgiving together with the tryptophan-full turkey that causes the extreme sleepiness after eating.

What happens is, when you consume food that has high levels of tryptophan, your body absorbs the amino acids into its bloodstream. Then the amino acids compete with each other to make it to the brain. So, essentially, the tryptophan needs to wait in a line of sorts with other types of amino acids and wait its turn to pass through the blood/brain barrier. As a protein alone, the tryptophan has more competition and very little of it can make it through the barrier. When you add the carbs more of the tryptophan gets across the barrier which creates a boost in serotonin levels making you feel tired. You may experience something similar to Thanksgiving sleepiness when you eat a large plate of chicken alfredo.

The amount of food you eat is also considered a factor in the feeling of sleepiness after a Thanksgiving meal. You use a lot of energy to digest food, and when we eat too much our bodies have to work that much harder, which could result in our feeling sleepy.

L-Tryptophan to Help You Sleep at Night

If you are having trouble sleeping, you can eat foods with l-tryptophan close to bedtime to boost your serotonin levels.

However, for those suffering from a sleep disorder, a simple bedtime snack will be of little help. If you find that you are sleepy throughout the day, you may be suffering from a sleep disorder. Call the Valley Sleep Center and set up your sleep consultation at one of our five convenient Valley locations today.