Zzzzzz inducing

You’re getting sleepy you’re getting verrrry sleeeeeepy

Tomorrow, after enjoying a traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner with more side dishes than we usually eat in an entire week, many of us will want nothing more than 40 minutes of down time on the couch. And despite the cheering football fans around the television, a half dozen kids screaming through the house, and holiday music blaring from the stereo, for many of us, no amount of commotion will be stimulating enough to derail our desire for a nice nap.

So – fact or myth? Is it really the turkey’s fault?

Tripping up l-tryptophan

You’ve probably heard the widely accepted “fact” that a natural chemical in turkey meat called l-tryptophan triggers the drowsiness that so many experience after Thanksgiving dinner. But if you go looking for the details behind this fact, you’ll find evidence that both supports it, and debunks it as a myth. So is the truth somewhere in the middle?

In a word: No.

Turkey does contain l-tryptophan – a natural sedative and sleep-inducing amino acid. But l-tryptophan in turkey meat is not concentrated enough that a couple of slices will make you drowsy. Also, for the l-tryptophan to have any effect, you would have to eat the turkey on an empty stomach. And I think it’s safe to say that almost none of us ever sit down to Thanksgiving dinner and eat a plate of turkey and only turkey.

And if you should share this information with your loved ones at the dinner table tomorrow and find that someone will not be dissuaded from the “turkey = sleepy” myth, you can settle the discussion with this fact: chicken contains more l-tryptophan than turkey. And yet you never hear anyone say, “Boy, that plate of Buffalo wings made me sleepy.”

Another can of l-tryptophan worms

So what is it about Thanksgiving dinner that makes us sleepy? Once you get past the l-tryptophan issue, it’s not too complicated. When we eat large portions of carbohydrates, most people respond with a blood sugar spike that increases the blood flow to the digestive tract. Add a glass or two of wine or some other alcoholic beverage, and you have the perfect Thanksgiving recipe for drowsiness.

Those of you that have been alternative health junkies for a while know that the information about l-tryptophan goes way beyond turkeys on the Thanksgiving table. L-tryptophan was once available as a dietary supplement, used as a natural alternative to pharmaceutical sleeping medications. In fact, HSI Panelist, Allan Spreen, M.D., tells us that he used to prescribe l-tryptophan as a safe and effective sleeping aid. But no more. Because the FDA banned supplements of l-tryptophan in 1990.

But I don’t want to kick off the holiday with a rant about the FDA. Suffice it to say that this seems to be yet another instance in which an FDA ban just happened to provide a lucrative boost for certain pharmaceutical companies when the competition from a natural supplement was removed from the marketplace. I’m going to save Dr. Spreen’s comments and some additional information I found on this subject for another e-Alert.

Meanwhile, I hope you thoroughly enjoy your Thanksgiving meal as we celebrate all the wonderful (and healthy) things we have to be thankful for. Eat well, drink and be merry. And enjoy your nap.


To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson
Health Sciences Institute