I hope we all have a fun, safe, and thankful (I have much to be thankful this year) Thanksgiving holiday.
The nugget for this Thanksgiving weekend is tryptophan (pronounced trip-teh-fan); an amino acid found in turkey that gets converted in the brain to serotonin. Serotonin is a hormone that is responsible for increased well-being, happiness, relaxation, and sleep, hence the Thanksgiving “Turkey makes me sleepy” myth made famous in a Seinfeld episode where Jerry wanted his girlfriend to go to sleep so Jerry, George, and Elaine could play with her collection of old toys.
Yes, this is a myth and another example where a little truth can go too far. Interestingly, there are higher levels of tryptophan found in chicken than turkey. As described in this excellent and short (under 3 minutes) video by Byte Size Science, all those delicious carbohydrates we eat on Thanksgiving (stuffing…yum!) are a bigger contributor to us feeling sleepy than anything else. Moreover, we normally eat more calories in one Thanksgiving meal than we do in a normal day. With all that food in our stomachs, the brain sends extra blood down to help with digestion, therefore training the rest of the body of resources (and yes, this makes us sleepy).
So if you hear any friends or relatives complaining about the tryptophan this weekend, set the record straight and make them watch the video.
Something to think about this holiday weekend…
Associate Professor of Marketing
Stillman School of Business
Seton Hall University