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Thanksgiving Sleepiness? Don't Blame the Tryptophan

By HERWriter
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if you're sleepy after Thanksgiving,  it's not the tryptophan's fault Hemera/Thinkstock

Turkey has held a reputation for a long time now for putting the crowd to sleep after a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. The cause for this drowsiness was thought to be high levels of tryptophan.

L-tryptophan is an essential amino acid, which means it's needed to create protein, and isn't made by the body, so must come from the diet. Tryptophan is a building block for protein production.

Tryptophan assists in making the B vitamin niacin. Niacin aids in digestion, and in the manufacture of the neurotransmitter serotonin.

Serotonin is a brain chemical that influences mood, enhancing a sense of wellbeing, and encouraging relaxation. Tryptophan helps make serotonin, and serotonin helps make the hormone melatonin, which regulates your waking and sleeping.

At one time tryptophan was in sleeping aid supplements. But as relaxing and sleep-beckoning though tryptophan may be, it is not turning your turkey into a sleep supplement.

Tryptophan is effective in that way only on an empty stomach, which puts your Thanksgiving experience right out of the running. And while turkey has tryptophan, so do many other meats, fish, eggs, yogurt and cheese.

So what is it that lulls the busy, boisterous household into dreamland after a big Thanksgiving meal?

Eating -- or overeating -- a big high carb dinner, perhaps with a few alcoholic drinks on the side, can leave a body feeling lethargic and interested in a snooze in the easy chair.

In a WebMD article, Elizabeth Somer,MA, RD, author of several books on nutrition, said that it's not the tryptophan found in proteins that are hitting you. It is more the carbohydrates combining with tryptophan that you've eaten. But the tryptophan by itself doesn't do it.

Nope, high carb content is one of the main culprits here. Carbohydrates trigger the pancreas' release of insulin. Other amino acids exit the bloodstream entering muscles cells. Tryptophan then is more concentrated in the bloodstream, serotonin is created and you feel like a snooze.

Overeating is going to be a Thanksgiving factor for many people, as well. Digesting all that food uses up plenty of energy.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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