Fact or Fiction: Turkey, Tryptophan, and Sleep

Americans know the struggle of staying awake the evening after Thanksgiving. After filling our bellies to the limit with warm potatoes, perfectly roasted turkey, and cranberries sauce, our lids seem heavier than ever and sleep comes easily. Old wives’ tales attribute this sleepiness to turkey and, later, we’ve discovered that it’s likely due to the chemical compound tryptophan found inside the white meat. If you’re suffering from a sleep disorder including obstructive sleep apnea, you understand the importance of getting a good night’s rest. Are you frustrated with your sleep and looking to try a non-pharmaceutical way to manage? Let’s find out if tryptophan, and turkey too, could help with your sleeping difficulties.

What is Tryptophan?

Tryptophan is one of twenty essential amino acids which your body needs to build proteins. Tryptophan works with your body to create serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for happiness and sleep. It would make sense that turkey, which is full of tryptophan, would make one sleepy by stimulating serotonin synthesis, but research says, “not so fast.” While turkey and other proteins contain tryptophan, they’ve also got plenty of other amino acids competing for space across cell membranes. Tryptophan doesn’t always cross into these cells, yet we still feel sleepy!

Look for the Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates found in your cranberry sauce and dessert are much more likely to cause sleepiness than your turkey alone. Why? Carbohydrates encourage the production of serotonin too and stimulates the production of insulin, a hormone that reduces tryptophan’s competition for space when crossing cell membranes. Together, proteins and carbohydrates really do the trick to help you fall asleep.

Solving Your Sleep Problems

If you’re looking for a snack to help you fall asleep, try something protein dense paired with a carbohydrate. All proteins contain tryptophan, so a glass of milk with toast, cheese and crackers, and a slice of ham wrapped in a tortilla are all excellent options. However, if you believe that your sleep troubles could be associated with sleep apnea because you’re snoring at night or experiencing other symptoms of the illness like high blood pressure or weight gain, you should visit a sleep specialist. At Advanced Sleep Therapy, we’re a team of health care professionals devoted to brining you better health through better sleep. Contact us today.