Sleep after dinner? Tryptophan story is a turkey.

Are you looking forward to that lovely time after Christmas dinner, when the crackers have been pulled, the presents opened, the telly on, and you can stretch out on the sofa and snooze? When there’s nothing more to do except anticipate the prospect of a mince pie and walnuts in between bouts of well-deserved slumber? It’s the tryptophan in turkey which makes us so sleepy, right? Wrong… Another Christmas myth.

Turkey is a great source of tryptophan, and tryptophan is the amino acid required to make serotonin, which is transformed at dusk to make the sleep promoting hormone, melatonin. But that doesn’t mean that Christmas turkey makes us sleepy.

In order to make serotonin, we need tryptophan, certain vitamins, and daylight. Eating your turkey in the afternoon or evening? No chance of making serotonin. Eating Christmas lunch and planning an afternoon walk? If you get your walk in before about 2pm, maybe. As long as you didn’t eat any other proteins along with your turkey. Pigs in blankets, nuts or cheese? Forget it. Competing amino acids, and tryptophan loses the race: is left behind and doesn’t cross the blood brain barrier. No serotonin, no melatonin.

Making serotonin isn’t an instant thing. Make it successfully, and it is converted to melatonin by the action of the pineal gland at dusk, or once it becomes dark, and blue light disappears. Bright lights, computers and mobile phones? Any serotonin you made may not be converted into melatonin, or be destroyed, because our brain thinks it’s morning. Better to sit round a fire, telling soothing stories.

Why do you fall asleep on Christmas afternoon? You are exhausted, relaxing at last, and drank too much? And how can you use your wonderful tryptophan rich turkey to promote sleep? Start on Boxing Day. Cook up leftover mashed potato and cabbage to make bubble and squeak and eat it for a breakfast with left over turkey. Then go out for a walk. No competing proteins, morning light, and tryptophan: the perfect ingredients to make the serotonin which will turn into wonderful sleep promoting melatonin, provided you have a proper experience of dusk.

Enjoy your Christmas dinner!

Wishing you a very good Christmas and Happy New Year.