April 29th, 2017
Do you know what tryptophan is? Tryptophan is a vital amino acid that you can only get from foods you eat. Your body cannot produce tryptophan on its own, so it depends on the foods and supplements you eat or consume. In turn, this tryptophan assists the human body in making niacin, a B level vitamin. This chain of biological events helps produce serotonin, a chemical that your body needs in order to "cool off" and relax so that you can slip into dreamland. People with insomnia and characteristics of sleep deprivation have low levels of this serotonin.
There is a myth going around that eating turkey can help you fall asleep. Turkey does have naturally occurring tryptophan in it, but it is not enough to make you sleepy or drowsy. In fact, you would have to eat turkey and turkey alone, without any other condiments or side dishes in order to reap any drowsy benefits. In other words, you would need to eat the turkey on an empty stomach so no other foods are absorbing or diluting the tryptophan and its sedative effects.
The trick to getting drowsy and falling asleep is to eat some foods that have carbohydrates as well as tryptophan. What happens is these carbohydrates stimulate the production of insulin in the body. Insulin helps "move" other chemicals in the body out of the way that can interfere with the tryptophan and the creation of serotonin. There is quite a list of foods that contain the sleep trigger tryptophan, namely dairy and soy. Listed below are just a few examples:
Most soy products like soy nuts, soybeans, soy milk and tofu
Seafood like shellfish and other types of fish
Beans and rice
Sunflower seeds, peanuts as well as other seeds and nuts
Dairy items like milk and cheese
Eggs and meat products
Tryptophan is also available in pill form, by the way of dietary supplements. Because pill form is more concentrated, the tryptophan works differently than when you consume it in the natural way through various food products like those listed above. The tryptophan supplements actually affect your brain processes more quickly, kicking in the serotonin into action. From there, you will feel more relaxed and calm. Then drowsiness sets in and you start going to sleep.
If you are aiming to get your tryptophan in a natural way through food, be sure not to eat a meal or snack high in proteins with those tryptophan-laden foods. The reason for this is high protein meals or snacks will kick another amino acid into high gear and it's called tyrosine. This amino acid gets your blood pumping, stimulating your brain, making you more alert. That's why the carbohydrates paired with foods loaded with tryptophan are recommended.
The tryptophan also affects other characteristics as sort of a side benefit. Because of the relaxed state that the tryptophan amino acid can bring, it can enhance your mood, alleviating symptoms of depression. Arguments and irritability decrease and the tryptophan even help ease symptoms of jet lag. It is especially important to note that a consultation with your doctor is highly recommended before taking any tryptophan in pill or supplement form.
Keeping in mind all of the possible natural sources of tryptophan, there are a number of snacks and meals that you can whip up to help you achieve a good night's sleep. When eating a night time snack, be sure and eat the snack about an hour or so before your appointed bed time. The reason behind that is due to the fact that it will take your body a while to break down your food chemically and allow the tryptophan to flow to the brain. Once this happens, it could potentially be lights out for you!
Do not count the tryptophan to be the miracle solution you are hoping for in helping you catch some zzz's. It will help you but the tryptophan is but a small part of the many options available to you in regards to sleep aids. Your best bet would be to choose several other sleep aids in conjunction with the tryptophan route to induce a good night's sleep