Not everyone eats turkey on Thanksgiving, but many who do report that the meal induces sleepiness. Though some researchers and scientists scoff at the idea that turkey alone can induce sleep, many of us know from first-hand experience that a Thanksgiving turkey dinner can indeed bring on the z’s.
Certainly, the combined weight of all the consumed carbohydrates (from potatoes, stuffing, bread, puddings and other sources) contribute to the z-factor, but studies point to the power of L-tryptophan, which is found in turkey, as a sleep inducer.
Over the past 20 years, 40 controlled studies have researched the effects of L-tryptophan on human sleepiness and sleep. The combined evidence indicates that just one gram of tryptophan not only increases one’s sleepiness but also decreases one’s sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep). So it’s no wonder if you consume turkey and trimmings and then sit down to watch a football game on television, you may zonk out pretty quickly.
L-tryptophan is an essential amino acid, but one which the body can’t produce on its own, so it must come from food sources. And you guessed it — turkey is a nice source of tryptophan. Other foods providing the amino acid include other poultry, meat, cheese, yogurt, fish and eggs.
Tryptophan is used by the human body to produce niacin, a B vitamin vital for the digestive process, skin and nerves. It also produces seratonin, a brain chemical that affects our mood and can create feelings of well-being and relaxation. And seratonin is also used by the body to produce melatonin, the sleep hormone.
Turkeys actually have less tryptophan than chickens, so to explain T-Day sleepiness, we’re back to the mix of foods that we consume — all those carbs and other melatonin-friendly foods combined with the tryptophan in the turkey contribute to our sleepiness. Factor in the wine or other alcoholic beverages we consume with our Thanksgiving meals, and you can see why sleepiness comes so naturally.
So that brings us to the question: Why not take L-tryptophan as a sleep supplement? Research is inconclusive on whether tryptophan can help cure insomnia, but some claim that one to three grams of L-tryptophan daily can help improve your mood and ward off health issues such as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and bipolar disorder.
If you do have sleep problems despite your best efforts at mastering sleep hygiene, you should seek professional help. Thanksgiving and its sleep effect come only once a year, so you need to take care of the other 364 days and nights.