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Turkey pardoned of liability for post-feast laziness

Collegian | Trin Bonner

With the holidays just around the corner, many students are preparing for Thanksgiving feasts — or at least better food than what they can get at the dining hall. With people looking forward to slices of pie, mountains of mashed potatoes and fresh bread rolls, it’s time to confront a common myth everyone talks about when these types of holidays roll around: Does turkey make us sleepy?

Sluggishness and lethargy after eating a big, traditional meal like Thanksgiving dinner are usually blamed on the turkeyor more specifically, tryptophan. Tryptophan is one of the 20 amino acids that comprise most living organisms. These amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, which perform vital functions in human body, from storing nutrients to acting as internal messengers in the form of hormones.


Proteins are essential to everything in the body, from chemical reactions to signaling pathways, said Megan Moran, an undergraduate of biomedical sciences in the department of microbiology, immunology and pathology

Humans can only produce 11 amino acids, which are often referred to as nonessential amino acids. So in order to avoid deficiency, we have to replenish the other nine essential amino acids, including tryptophan, with the food we eatFoods with high levels of tryptophan include milk, peanuts, cheese and, of course, turkey. Raw white meat turkey contains over 400 milligrams of tryptophan per pound, within the recommended daily allowance. However, sources like milk contain over 700 milligrams of tryptophan per quart — much more than turkey. 

Tryptophan is essential for many metabolic functions in the human body. It greatly helps regulate our mood, cognitive functions and behavior, and tryptophan supplements are used to help with sleep issues, depression and premenstrual syndrome, though the scientific backing for these benefits is lacking.

Tryptophan is an essential building block in the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is widely considered a mood stabilizer. As the amount of serotonin in your bloodstream increases, the antidepressant effects of tryptophan will increase. Tryptophan is also a key component in producing melatonin — a hormone linked with sleep cycles — which leads to the common belief that the tryptophan in turkey makes us sleepy.

While some evidence demonstrates a connection between tryptophan in turkey and drowsiness, it is more likely that consuming tryptophan while also overloading with carbohydrates, which are present in many holiday food staples, causes drowsiness after a big holiday dinner. Tryptophan in turkey is just one of the many factors that can make people sleepy. Other factors include poor circulation after a heavy meal and the winter season’s natural ability to induce sleepiness as it gets darker earlier.

It is important that essential amino acids are included in our diets in order to stay healthy and produce the proteins our bodies need to function. Turkey might not be the only thing that makes us sleepy after a big holiday meal, but it is a good way to get your daily dose of tryptophan.

Reach Hana Pavelko at or on Twitter @hanasolo13.

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About the Contributor
Trin Bonner, Illustration Editor
Trin Bonner is the illustration editor for The Collegian newspaper. This will be her third year in this position, and she loves being a part of the creative and amazing design team at The Collegian. As the illustration editor, Bonner provides creative insight and ideas that bring the newspaper the best graphics and illustrations possible. She loves working with artists to develop fun and unique illustrations every week for the readers. Bonner is a fourth-year at Colorado State University studying electronic arts. She loves illustrating and comic making and has recently found enjoyment in experimental video, pottery and graphic design. Outside of illustration and electronic art, Bonner spends her free time crocheting and bead making. She is usually working on a blanket or making jewelry when she is not drawing, illustrating or brainstorming.

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