Key Takeaways
  • Tryptophan is an essential amino acid found in various foods, including turkey.
  • Tryptophan can influence mood and sleep by affecting serotonin and melatonin production.
  • While tryptophan may promote relaxation, overall diet and lifestyle greatly affect sleep quality.
  • Avoid overeating and limit your alcohol intake to prevent sleepiness during the holidays.

Feeling sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner is common. Many people find they cannot stop yawning as they clean up dishes, while others nod off during a football game. This is often blamed on turkey, since it contains tryptophan .

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that plays several important roles in the human body, including the process of making serotonin. Serotonin is a hormone that helps balance your mood. The byproduct of the tryptophan-to-serotonin process is melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleeping and waking.

Does Turkey Make You Tired?

Although it may be tempting to blame the turkey, the tryptophan likely doesn’t make you sleepy on its own. Rather, eating foods with tryptophan in addition to a large number of carbohydrates leads to sleepiness. Carbohydrates come from the other typical foods at the Thanksgiving table, such as breads, potatoes, peas, corn, sugary drinks, and desserts.

What Foods Are High in Tryptophan?

Our bodies do not naturally produce tryptophan , so we have to get it through the foods we eat. Aside from turkey, tryptophan can be found in many protein-based foods, including:

  • Meats such as chicken, and fish
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products such as milk and cheese
  • Seeds, including pumpkin, sunflower, and sesame seeds
  • Legumes such as soybeans and peanuts

If you’re looking for a food to make you feel sleepy, turkey probably should not be your first choice. While sleep can be affected by your overall nutrition, there are a number of other foods that help you sleep.

What Makes You Tired During the Holidays?

Other customs, foods and beverages, and seasonal responses may contribute to your sleepiness.

Overeating

A holiday food table is often packed with tasty dishes. While additional helpings of pumpkin pie may taste delicious, eating too much food can make you sleepy. Research shows that high-carbohydrate, high-fat meals lead to post-meal sleepiness, with peak fatigue happening an hour to an hour and a half after you finish eating.

Carbohydrate-based, high-glycemic-index meals also cause you to fall asleep faster . The glycemic index measures how quickly food increases your blood sugar. High-glycemic foods, such as potatoes and sugar, cause your blood sugar to rise quickly. Higher blood sugar encourages the body to produce insulin, which makes it easier for tryptophan to travel in the bloodstream to your brain.

Alcohol Consumption

During the holiday season, you may consume more alcohol than usual. Alcohol consumption affects sleep in several ways. Because alcohol slows down the brain and depresses your nervous system, after a few drinks you’ll likely feel sleepy. Alcohol can make you fall asleep faster than normal and sleep heavier during the first portion of the night.

However, alcohol can disrupt your sleep during the second half of the night. You might wake up during the night several times after drinking. Insomnia at night then impacts your alertness during the day. You may experience excessive daytime sleepiness, which can make it difficult to concentrate or stay awake.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

With fewer sunlight hours in the autumn and winter, you might find your mood and habits changing. Less sunlight can disrupt your circadian rhythm , which then affects your sleep cycle. As many as 3% of people experience seasonal affective disorder, a form of depression with typical onset in the fall and winter. Other symptoms include low energy, decreased enjoyment of activities, increased sleep, and increased cravings for carbohydrates.

Circadian Rhythm

Most people have a 24-hour circadian rhythm that influences when they sleep. In this rhythm, you have two peak times for sleepiness . The first is in the middle of the night when you sleep the deepest. The second peak of sleepiness is about 12 hours later. For many people, this sleepy time falls in the hours after lunchtime. If you have your big holiday meal in the early afternoon, you may feel naturally sleepy shortly afterward.

How Do I Avoid Feeling Sleepy During the Holidays?

If you want to avoid feeling sleepy during the holidays, there are several steps you can take:

  • Get Enough Sleep: Holiday gatherings may disrupt your routine, but it’s important to keep your sleep schedule as consistent as possible. Most adults need at least seven hours of sleep each night.
  • Eat Smaller Portions: Smaller portions and foods lower in carbohydrates can help reduce your feelings of sleepiness.
  • Reduce Alcohol Consumption: Especially in people who do not frequently drink, low amounts of alcohol reduce the time it takes for them to fall asleep.
  • Exercise Regularly: Regular exercise helps you maintain overall health and well-being and is recommended for healthy sleep . However, it is best to avoid exercise two to three hours prior to bedtime.
  • Create a Healthy Sleep Environment: Make your sleep environment dark, cool, and quiet, and avoid light from electronics in the hours before bedtime.

With attention to food habits and sleep hygiene, you can enjoy the festivities of the holiday season and avoid nodding off too early.

Learn more about our Editorial Team

References
12 Sources

  1. Richard, D. M., Dawes, M. A., Mathias, C. W., Acheson, A., Hill-Kapturczak, N., & Dougherty, D. M. (2009). L-Tryptophan: Basic metabolic functions, behavioral research and therapeutic indications. International Journal Of Tryptophan Research, 2, 45–60.

    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20651948/
  2. Jenkins, T., Nguyen, J., Polglaze, K., & Bertrand, P. (2016). Influence of tryptophan and serotonin on mood and cognition with a possible role of the gut-brain axis. Nutrients, 8(1), 56.

    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26805875/
  3. A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia. (2021, July 2) Tryptophan. MedlinePlus., Retrieved May 20, 2021, from

    https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002332.htm
  4. Lehrskov, L. L., Dorph, E., Widmer, A. M., Hepprich, M., Siegenthaler, J., Timper, K., & Donath, M. Y. (2018). The role of IL-1 in postprandial fatigue. Molecular Metabolism, 12, 107–112.

    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29705519/
  5. Afaghi, A., O’Connor, H., & Chow, C. M. (2007). High-glycemic-index carbohydrate meals shorten sleep onset. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 85(2), 426–430.

    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17284739/
  6. A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia. (2021, May 4). Glycemic index and diabetes. MedlinePlus., Retrieved May 22, 2021, from

    https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000941.htm
  7. MedlinePlus: National Library of Medicine (US). (2014, June 12). Alcohol. MedlinePlus.

    https://medlineplus.gov/alcohol.html
  8. Thakkar, M. M., Sharma, R., & Sahota, P. (2015). Alcohol disrupts sleep homeostasis. Alcohol, 49(4), 299–310.

    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25499829/
  9. MedlinePlus: National Library of Medicine (US). (2019, May 1). Seasonal affective disorder., Retrieved May 24, 2021, from

    https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/condition/seasonal-affective-disorder/#causes
  10. Bes, F., Jobert, M., & Schulz, H. (2009). Modeling napping, post-lunch dip, and other variations in human sleep propensity. Sleep, 32(3),392-398.

    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19294959/
  11. Consensus Conference Panel, Watson, N. F., Badr, M. S., Belenky, G., Bliwise, D. L., Buxton, O. M., Buysse, D., Dinges, D. F., Gangwisch, J., Grandner, M. A., Kushida, C., Malhotra, R. K., Martin, J. L., Patel, S. R., Quan, S. F., Tasali, E., Non-Participating Observers, Twery, M., Croft, J. B., Maher, E., … Heald, J. L. (2015). Recommended amount of sleep for a healthy adult: A joint consensus statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 11(6), 591–592.

    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25979105/
  12. MedlinePlus: National Library of Medicine (US). (2014, April 14). Healthy Sleep., Retrieved May 24, 2021, from

    https://medlineplus.gov/healthysleep.html

Learn More About Nutrition and Sleep

The Best Foods To Help You Sleep

By Eric Suni April 12, 2024

Top 6 Bedtime Mocktails for Sleep

By Tom Ryan, PhD April 9, 2024

Sleep Benefits of Tart Cherry Juice

By Eric Suni January 29, 2024

Why Does Coffee Make You Tired?

By Jay Summer January 22, 2024

The Best 7 Teas for Sleep

By Tom Ryan, PhD January 12, 2024

Soda and Sleep

By Danielle Pacheco January 9, 2024

Caffeine and Sleep

By Danielle Pacheco January 9, 2024

close quiz
We Are Here To Help You Sleep.
Tell us about your sleep by taking this brief quiz.

Based on your answers, we will calculate your free Sleep Foundation Score and create a personalized sleep profile that includes sleep-improving products and education curated just for you.

Saas Quiz Saas Quiz