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Can some foods really make you sleepy?

Can some foods really make you sleepy?
Common wisdom holds that certain meals can make you drowsy, but is that true? Claudia Hammond explains.


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Feeling sleepy after specific meals

Feeling sleepy after specific meals

Eating roast turkey is often blamed for the sleepy feeling that follows. The reason cited is that it contains the substance L-tryptophan. But other foods have more, for example, egg white, cod or pork chops, or sea lion kidney.

To understand why some meals make you drowsier, you need to know how the body and brain absorb nutrients.




The workings of tryptophan

  • L-tryptophan is an essential amino acid, meaning your body can't produce it. You obtain it from your diet. Your body uses L-tryptophan as a building block to make serotonin, which is associated with happiness. Pharmaceutical preparations of tryptophan can indeed treat insomnia.
  • But tryptophan as a pharmaceutical preparation is not the same as tryptophan from the diet. The protein in a meal also contains large neutral amino acids (LNAAs), and these compete with tryptophan to cross the blood-brain barrier.
  • For tryptophan to produce serotonin, it needs to be eaten on an empty stomach and without other competing amino acids.
  • Studies showed eating butternut squash seeds (high in tryptophan) with sugar dextrose improved sleep. This is because sweet carbohydrates cause the secretion of insulin which encourages other amino acids to be absorbed in tissues, leaving the typtophan to cross the blood-brain barrier.



Why you feel food makes you sleepy

Eating turkey may make you feel drowsy because of the combination of other foods eaten with it.

Other reasons include feeling tired, getting work finished off just before the holidays, cooking for large numbers of people, and staying awake for too long. Then add alcohol to a huge meal, and no wonder you feel ready to drop off.




Foods that affect your sleep

Foods that affect your sleep

Researchers found that eating a diet high in sugar, saturated fat, and processed carbohydrates can negatively affect your sleep.

Foods rich in unsaturated fat, such as nuts...

The relationship between diet and sleep

Researchers found that eating more saturated fat and less fibre from foods like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains led to reductions in slow-wave sleep - the deep restorative kind of sleep.

People who consume a high-carbohydrate diet fall asleep much faster at night, but the quality of carbs matters. People who eat simple carbs and sugar tend to wake up more frequently throughout the night while eating complex carbs that contain fibre may help you obtain more deep, restorative sleep. This is because complex carbohydrates provide a more stable blood sugar level.

Diet and sleep affect each other

As people lose sleep, they may seek out more junk food. Healthy adults who sleep only four or five hours a night end up eating more calories and snacking on sweet foods more frequently.

Another study found that proper sleep can increase your willpower to avoid unhealthy foods.

Creating a sleep-inducing environment

  • Turn the temperature between 60 and 72 degrees.
  • Turn off the lights. Artificial light suppresses your body’s production of the sleep hormone melat...

Dopamine Functions

Dopamine is an important chemical messenger that plays several important roles in the brain and body:

  • It influences moods and feelings of reward and motivation: When&nbs...

Increase dopamine levels naturally

They are generally well regulated by the body, but there are a few diet and lifestyle changes you can make to boost your levels naturally:

  • Eat lots of protein
  • Eat less saturated fat
  • Consume probiotics
  • Exercise often
  • Get enough sleep
  • Listen to music
  • Meditate
  • Get enough sunlight