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While Thanksgiving is a time focused mainly on family, friends, and giving thanks, it's also the cause of a pervasive medical myth: that turkey makes you sleepy. Don't start with us about the tryptophan. Gah! We know about the tryptophan, and you're not helping your case.

It's your Thanksgiving duty to watch this video and share it with everyone you know. Help us beat down this lie! You owe it to the turkeys.

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Read more on Aaron's blog:

This was part of a paper on medical myths that Aaron published in the BMJ:
The key references are #40-53 here: Knock yourself out.

John Green -- Executive Producer
Stan Muller -- Director, Producer
Aaron Carroll -- Writer
Mark Olsen - Graphics
It’s Thanksgiving. And while it’s a time when many of you will gather with family and appreciate the good things in life, it’s nothing but frustration for me. That’s not because I don’t like gathering with my family or because I don’t have a lot to be thankful for, I do. It’s because Thanksgiving is the time when I’m forced to hear over and over and over again the pernicious myth that turkey makes you sleepy. It doesn’t. That’s wrong and this is Healthcare Triage.


The myth that turkey makes you sleepy is so pervasive that I bet you even think you have a scientific explanation for it, it’s the tryptophan. And it’s true that L-Tryptophan is sold as a dietary supplement to help you sleep, but it’s there that the facts stop supporting this lie.

Let’s start with the fact that turkey doesn’t have that much tryptophan in it. In fact, chicken and ground beef have the same amount of tryptophan in them, about 350 milligrams per 4 ounce serving. It turns out that cheese and pork actually have more tryptophan in them than turkey does, but no one ever claims that the ham and cheese sandwich made them sleepy, no, it’s always the turkey.

Then let’s move on to the fact that the amount of tryptophan in turkey is much less than the amount that’s recommended to help you sleep. Some sources say you need a thousand milligrams or more, which means you’d have to eat more than three quarters of a pound of turkey just to get that much tryptophan. Most people don’t eat that much in a sitting, even at a Thanksgiving dinner.

It gets worse. If you buy tryptophan as a sleep aid and look at the side of the box, it’s likely you’ll see instructions telling you to take it on an empty stomach. Why? Cos tryptophan is poorly absorbed with food, especially with a big meal. In other words, if you wanted to use turkey as a delivery system for tryptophan, getting it from a big Thanksgiving meal is gonna be really ineffective. There’s nothing about this myth that makes sense.

Of course there are plenty of other reasons that you might get sleepy on Thanksgiving. Big meals can cause drowsiness. So can alcohol. So can a case of not wanting to do the dishes. Also the Thanksgiving Day parade is extremely boring. So blame your sleepiness on any of these things, just don’t blame it on the turkey. Admit to yourself that the turkey was delicious, make yourself a Myles Standish, loosen your belt and take a nap. Maybe you’ll luck out and miss the parade.