Does Turkey Really Make You Sleepy?


It is a common misconception that turkey makes people feel sleepy, but in reality, it is no different from any other foods.

Amelia Garcia, Staff Writer

The winter holidays are the one time of year that we can fill ourselves with stuffing, mashed potatoes, turkey and all kinds of treats with no judgement. Of course, after everyone demolishes the turkey, they pass out for their long winter naps.

Due to popular belief, many people think turkey causes them to feel sleepy or tired, but science proves a different story.

Tryptophan, a chemical found in turkeys, is often the blame when it comes to sleepy behavior. “Tryptophan is also a precursor to melatonin, a sleep-associated hormone manufactured in the brain’s pineal gland,” said an article from the Scientific American. Since the chemical is associated with melatonin, it is often regarded as a sleep-inducing chemical.

However, the chemical tryptophan is simpler than that. “Tryptophan is a basic amino acid that the body cannot make [on its own],” said Michael Struebing, a human body systems teacher at Vista del Lago High School. “The body cannot make [tryptophan] so you have to ingest it to get it into your body,” Struebing said.

Since the human body is not capable of producing tryptophan on its own, it gets it through tryptophan-rich foods such as turkey. However, you should think twice before you blame the bird for your sleepy behavior because it might be caused by another source. “You can find [tryptophan] in a lot of different foods,” Struebing said. “You can find it in chicken, you can find it in milk–there’s a lot of foods with tryptophan in it.”

While tryptophan does produce serotonin which then produces melatonin, turkey alone is not enough to cause sleep. According to an article published by Live Science, carbohydrates are a big source that lead to sleep.

Carbohydrates work by releasing insulin which eliminates all amino acids in the body’s blood stream except for tryptophan. With tryptophan being the only amino acid in the blood, it is easy for the chemical to quickly reach the brain and produce melatonin.

“Basically, any big meal containing tryptophan and lots of carbohydrates can trigger sleepiness — not just turkey,”said Tanya Lewis in a Live Science article. “And on Thanksgiving, many other factors contribute to feelings of tiredness, such as drinking alcohol. The holidays are also a time when people often take a break from their hard work.”

Turkey isn’t to blame for feeling sleepy after Thanksgiving; in reality, carbohydrates paired with tryptophan-rich foods can cause sleepy behavior.

But you can still feel free to take a nap.