Healthcare Triage/YouTube

You know that part of Thanksgiving when everyone starts talking about how eating the huge meal makes them tired? And some presumably know-it-all family member starts lecturing about how it’s actually the tryptophan in turkey that makes you so sleepy?

The logic behind this concept is that tryptophan, a neurotransmitter, turns into serotonin and melatonin when you metabolize it, presumably via binge eating turkey. The serotonin and melatonin then make you sleepy (both neurotransmitters are sold in drugstores as sleep-aid supplements.)


But guess what? It’s wrong. So wrong. As science will attest.

As it turns out, the level of tryptophan in turkey is incredibly low. Even more, tryptophan’s ability to induce sleep is diluted by eating food with the neurotransmitter.

In the video, Aaron Carroll and Health Triage break down just how little tryptophan is in your Thanksgiving turkey.


Some takeaways from the video:

  • Chicken and beef have about the same level of tryptophan as turkey, about 350 milligrams per 4-ounce serving.
  • Cheese and pork have more tryptophan than turkey, with about 400 milligrams per 4-ounce serving.
  • The amount of tryptophan in turkey is a lot less than the amount recommended to help you sleep.
  • You’d have to eat about ¾ of a pound of turkey to get the amount of tryptophan recommended to help you sleep.
  • Tryptophan is poorly absorbed with food.

So, as the video points out, there are a lot of things about Thanksgiving that will make you tired. Eating a lot of food in general will make you tired. Spending hours upon hours with your family will make you tired. Watching the Detroit Lions will make you tired. Inevitably discussing the Affordable Care Act with your Uncle will make you tired. But turkey? Turkey is just delicious (says this vegetarian).


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