Having just eaten a huge turkey dinner for Thanksgiving, I’m sitting lazily by my computer and wondering why turkey always makes me sleepy. I’ve heard that there’s something called triptofan (tryptofan? tryptophan?) in turkey that does this, but I’m skeptical. What’s the scoop, Dave?
You have heard correctly, actually. There is a substance in turkey called tryptophan that is what’s called an “essential amino acid” for the human diet. While it commonly appears in turkey, it turns out that it’s also common in other foods, including cheese, chicken, beef, salmon, eggs, wheat flour, and even white rice. In fact, according to Wikipedia, dairy milk has the highest ratio of tryptophan to protein of any food source, followed by eggs.
Apparently, tryptophan increases the levels of seratonin and melatonin in the brain, the things that help you have a wake/sleep cycle and get to sleep at night. Heck, you can actually buy tryptophan in health food stores as a sleep aid.
Hmmmm. It certainly suggests that eating a lot of turkey could make you get sleepy!
However, the sad news is that the amount of tryptophan in the turkey you eat is probably less a cause for your post-meal drowsiness than the simple fact that you’ve just eaten a big meal and it was probably loaded with carbohydrate-rich food.
In other words, don’t blame the gobbler: if you had a tofurkey and all the same side dishes, I bet you’d be just as sleepy during the Big Game anyway.
Don’t trust Wikipedia as a source? There are plenty of other references to turkey dinners and lethargy, including a good overview at about.com, a scholarly report from MIT, and a National Institutes of Health overview. Heck, there’s even an article about this at whitehouse.gov. And you thought that the Command-in-Chief was busy with more important things on Thanksgiving? 🙂