October 2, 2021

Why Does Tryptophan Make You Sleepy?

Many of us have experienced the post-Thanksgiving dinner naps. When I was growing up, I was told this was due to something you can find in turkey called tryptophan. Leading me to believe that turkey and any other foods containing tryptophan would put you right to sleep. Fast forward to adulthood and we wanted to do a deep dive to discover why tryptophan makes you feel sleepy, along with what it really is and the other foods that you can find it in. Stick around to learn more about what tryptophan is and why we feel sleepy after eating it.

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tryptophan and sleep


What is Tryptophan?

can eating turkey make you tired?

Before we get into how tryptophan works, it is good to know what it actually is. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid. The “essential” part means that it is a kind of amino acid that your body cannot synthesis on its own and needs to be sourced directly from your diet. It is a precursor to serotonin, melatonin, and niacin. All of which your body uses to regulate your mood and induce sleep. Because of this, without tryptophan it can be difficult to do those things.

There are two different types of tryptophan, L-tryptophan and D-tryptophan. However, don’t get too tripped up by this. It turns out that L-tryptophan and D-tryptophan react the same way in the body they are simply called different things depending on the orientation of the molecules. None of which is important for the information we are trying to decipher today.

Learn more about foods that are great for sleep in our post: Best And Worst Foods Before Bed

How Does Tryptophan Make You Feel Sleepy?

foods that are high in tryptophan

When you get down to it the real question is whether or not it is tryptophan alone that makes you feel sleepy. The answer to that is no, tryptophan on its own does not make you feel tired. So why do we associate tryptophan with feeling tired? One reason is that Thanksgiving is an exhausting day filled with many reasons to need to take a nap. (Check out our post Why Does Thanksgiving Dinner Make You Tired)

The other reason tryptophan is associated with feeling sleepy is because it is an essential amino acid needed in order for our bodies to produce melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone our bodies produce in order to induce sleep. When we are not getting tryptophan in our diet, our body is unable to produce melatonin naturally. Many people choose to take melatonin supplements at night in order to fall asleep naturally.

Think of tryptophan as a building block that your body uses to create melatonin. However, your body does not release melatonin simply because you ate something high in tryptophan. Your body will still choose to produce melatonin to induce sleep whenever your circadian rhythm kicks in.

In short, does tryptophan make you feel sleepy? Technically no, however it is a tool your body needs to create the hormone melatonin which is used to induce sleep.

To better understand why you get sleepy during Thanksgiving dinner, see our post:Why Does Thanksgiving Dinner Make You Sleepy?

Foods High in Tryptophan:

tryptophan and sleep

Turkey is not the only food source containing tryptophan. Many foods that are a part of a regular diet are actually high in tryptophan, especially foods high in protein. This is great news as it is an essential amino acid that we need to source from our diet. The following is a list of food containing tryptophan…

Foods High In Tryptophan:
  • chicken
  • turkey
  • milk
  • eggs
  • cheese
  • fish
  • bananas
  • oats
  • peanuts
  • pumpkin seeds
  • sesame seeds
  • tofu and soy
  • chocolate

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Tryptophan & Your Circadian Rhythm:

the food your eat and your circadian rhythm

When it comes to falling asleep it really comes down to your circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is affected by your daily habits and routines. By being consistent with when you eat, workout, and go to bed your body will be able to schedule the production and release of melatonin at night to help you fall asleep.

When you eat a food containing tryptophan your body is simply acquiring a tool needed in order to create melatonin, it is not triggering the production. When means tryptophan by itself will not make you feel sleepy right after eating it. However, once your body is ready to make or release melatonin into your system, it will then access the tryptophan in order to do so.

Click the link to learn more about your circadian rhythm and how it works! Chronotypes: Your Circadian Typology

Tryptophan and Sleep – Final Thoughts:

This is the information we have gathered in order to better understand what tryptophan is really all about. So, if you were like us wondering if tryptophan makes you feel sleepy, then now you know how it really works. Tryptophan does help you to get to sleep naturally as it aids in the production of melatonin.

We also now know that turkey is not the only good source of tryptophan. There are loads of healthy foods that are a good source of tryptophan that you can add to your regular diet. In the end this will help you to get healthy sleep and support your bodies natural production of melatonin.

tryptofan and sleep

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