If you’ve been blaming your sleepiness and tiredness after a heavy meal on tryptophan, we must point out that it’s a complete myth. The reality behind sleepiness right after a heavy meal is a lot more prosaic - it simply takes a lot of energy for your body to digest excessive amounts of food, and so you become tired and need a nap.
While tryptophan has nothing to do with drowsiness after a Thanksgiving dinner, though, it can help promote healthy sleep. As we’ve explained earlier, tryptophan plays a key role in the production of melatonin and serotonin. Both of these hormones play a crucial role in our sleep-wake cycles, but it takes quite a lot of time - about 5 hours - to produce these hormones. Therefore, it might be better to eat tryptophan-rich foods or take supplements that contain a lot of tryptophan between the morning and the afternoon if you’re taking them to improve your sleep.
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All these benefits may make you wonder: "Should I start taking a tryptophan supplement to maximize the beneficial effects?" Doctors say that we should be careful, as we still don't know how excessive amounts of the nutrient may affect our body. In addition, tryptophan supplementation has been known to interfere with certain medications that treat depression, pain relievers, and migraine medications.
Finally, the National Organization for Rare Disorders had a report about tryptophan supplements likely causing 1,500 cases of a rare disorder called eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS) that lead to 37 deaths in the late 1980s. EMS is a rapidly-evolving and mysterious condition that targets multiple organs in the body, such as the lungs, skin, and muscles that could be fatal. This is exactly why L-tryptophan supplements have been banned for a short time in the US, and to this day, most supplements contain D-tryptophan.
It needs to be pointed out, however, that consuming tryptophan through food has never been associated with any negative health consequences, so enjoy that Thanksgiving turkey and pumpkin pie, no need to be afraid. In fact, nutrition experts maintain that getting your tryptophan through food is the best choice!
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