Happy Tryptophan Day!

I wrote this back in 2006. It was ridiculous then, and it’s ridiculous now. Nonetheless, posting it on my blog has become a Thanksgiving tradition for me.


If you’re like me, then perhaps you’ve noticed a disturbing trend that is gaining popularity with each successive Thanksgiving. I’m not sure where, why, or who started it, but I’ve decided to put an end to it, and I’m asking for your help.

structure of tryptophan

structure of tryptophan

The trend in question is the overuse of the word ‘tryptophan‘. Yes, I’m talking about that mystery substance in turkey that supposedly makes your eyelids heavy after Thanksgiving dinner. Come the fourth Thursday in November, “tryptophan” suddenly becomes everyone’s favorite three-syllable word.

It seems like only yesterday that attributing your post-turkey drowsiness to this little-known amino acid made you sound smart and well-read. My, how the times have changed. These days, everyone and their mother knows why that gravy-covered piece of poultry is going to make you want to take a nap*. It has ascended (or perhaps descended) into the realm of common knowledge, filed somewhere between “LOST is the best TV show ever” and “rain is wet”.

*It should be noted, that lots of smart folks believe your post-turkey nap has very little to do with the trace amount of tryptophan found in turkey meat. As it turns out, tryptophan works best on an empty stomach. So maybe the real reason we want to sleep after our Thanksgiving meal is because we have just consumed enough food to feed the entire cast of The Hills for a week (and yes, that does include the writers who script their conversations).

In order to separate the tryptophan discussion from the very fabric of thanksgiving, which is my ultimate goal here, I’ve devised a plan. It’s equal parts genius and idiocy, and I’m quite certain that if executed properly, it will rid our families of this needless tryptophan talk forever. My goal is a lofty one, I know, but I believe that we can all do this together, ridding the country of the tryptophan myth one family gathering at a time.

Here’s the plan:

8am, Thanksgiving Morning – Roll out of bed fully rested. If you try to execute this plan on too little sleep, you’re going to spend the entire day walking around looking like David Schwimmer in “The Pallbearer”. Iin case you were wondering, that’s not a good thing.)

9am – Eat a good breakfast. Don’t be the sucker who starves himself for 18 hours before Thanksgiving Dinner only to find out that his stomach has shrunk to the size of a orange and he can barely get down his first helping of food. There’s always one of these jokers at every Thanksgiving table. They’ll walk in and proudly announce “Hey, I haven’t eaten anything since last night! Let’s Dig In!” Then they peter out after a few bites of cranberry sauce. Don’t be that guy.

10am – Time to prepare your props. Grab an empty pill bottle and write the word “Tryptophan” on it with a Sharpie. Do the same thing on the front of a plain white T-shirt in extra-large letters. Next, print out a dozen copies of the Tryptophan WIkipedia page. Bring these with you, along with a Scrabble set. Make sure to sift through your Scrabble tiles beforehand and set aside the tiles you need to spell “tryptophan” in a separate baggie.

11am – Clothes selection is huge. You know that turtleneck/sweater combo you planned on wearing? Don’t. The oven and every burner on the stove are going to be going full throttle all morning, so it’s going to be hotter than habaneras in there. Besides, you want to be wearing your Tryptophan T-Shirt with only one layer of clothing over it, preferably a casual long-sleeve button-down from the Gap or something of that ilk. As for pants, wear your loosest pair and remember to pre-adjust your belt loop to one notch bigger than usual. This will help you avoid the dreaded post-dinner belt adjustment*.

*Note to anyone planning on going for the post-dinner belt adjustment as a funny gag to get some laughs, please spare us all. It’s about as funny as a strep throat.

12pm – Unless you’re hosting the meal, you should be on your way to the gathering at this point. First impressions are everything, so when you walk in the door the plan immediately goes into action. Instead of barking out “Happy Thanksgiving!” like everyone else, yell out “Happy Tryptophan Day!” a few times as you shake hands and give hugs. Feel free to mumble it under your breath a few times if you like or even make a little song out of it. Repeat it enough times that it makes everyone slightly uncomfortable, but not enough to make them think that you are up to something. We’re still only setting the stage at this point.

Once the eating has begun, look for a good opportunity to secretly stash a few pieces of turkey meat in your empty pill bottle. This will come in handy later. Enjoy your thanksgiving meal, but eat quickly.You want to be the first one to finish your meal. As you’re getting up from the table, pull out the copies of the article you brought and pass them around. As they’re circulating say something to the effect of “I thought this was an interesting read”. Leave the room immediately, before folks can start grilling you about it, and find a nice spot in front of the TV to watch some football.

1pm – As folks trickle in to join you in front of the TV, give each one of them some sort of tryptophan comment. Be as original and as obnoxious as possible. Quips like “How’s that tryptophan treating you?”, “Had enough tryptophan?”, or “Sleepy time yet, Mr. Tryptophan?” will all work quite nicely.

2pm – As everyone around you begins to nod off, take a little pretend nap of your own. After 5 or 10 minutes, pretend to wake up and exclaim “Wow, Old Man Tryptophan just put a hurting on me!” loud enough to wake everyone up who’s sleeping. This will really tick them off. Let them fall back asleep as they think of 101 different ways to punch you in the face.

3pm – The nappers will be waking up from their siestas and will be groggy and irritable. This is the perfect time to get in trivial arguments with them for no good reason. Be sure to take the opposite side on everything, just to make it interesting.

Personally, I recommend goading them into the “Why do the Lions and Cowboys get the Thanksgiving NFL games every year?” argument. Chances are they will be against the tradition, and you can argue that you like it because it makes you feel “safe and American”. Close your argument by saying “It’s kinda like tryptophan”. When they ask “What does that mean?” excuse yourself to leave the room. While you’re up, go out to the car and grab your Scrabble game. Remember to pull out the “tryptophan” tile baggie and put it in your pocket.

4pm – Find the largest gathering of people inside the house and make some small talk. After a few minutes, let everyone know that you’re getting a little warm and that you’re going to take off your shirt. As you remove your outer layer, you’ll get some puzzled glances and dirty looks. Folks really won’t understand why the word “Tryptophan” is written with a Sharpie on your shirt, and frankly, they probably won’t appreciate it. Deflect any questions you get by saying “I don’t know” or “I can’t remember.”

5pm – Organize a game of Scrabble and be sure to trash talk during the entire game, even if you’re losing. You want everyone else to really be pulling for you to finish last. As the game winds down, secretly replace the tiles in your rack one by one with the tiles in your pocket. When it’s your turn, play all of your tiles, spelling the word “Tryptophan”. If there’s no place on the board to play a 10-letter word, just let the letters trail off of the board. Your opponents will be outraged that you have cheated and ruined the game with your crooked shenanigans, wasting a perfectly good hour of their lives. It’s alright, some day they’ll thank you for it.

6pm – It’s been a long day, and the dirty looks you are getting from your family are making you miss the peace and quiet of your own home. Just hang in there, though, because your work is almost done.


Find someone who is drinking coffee and remark “You’re drinking coffee this late?” After they inform you that it’s decaf, follow up with “Well, it you’re worried about falling asleep tonight you could have a couple of these pills that I take whenever I can’t sleep”. At this point take out the Tryptophan pill bottle and pull out a few pieces of room temperature turkey meat to offer to them. Make sure the inscribed “Tryptophan” is plainly visible to them. When they refuse to eat some, pop a couple pieces in your own mouth, put the bottle back I your pocket and then fall to the floor with a thud as if the turkey meat has knocked you out. By now your family members will be so sick of you that they will probably just ignore you.

While fake sleeping, congratulate yourself. Mission Accomplished.

7pm – As you make your exit, be sure to leave the same way you entered, spouting “Happy Tryptophan Day!” to everyone within earshot. Every single person there will be so tired of the word “tryptophan” that they will cringe every time they hear someone say it over the next few years. You can bet that the next time your family gathers over the holiday bird, they won’t be throwing around the ‘T’ word so liberally anymore. Sure, someone will probably mention how crazy you went with “that tryptophan thing” a few years back, but mostly they’ll all try to forget it and move on with their lives.

As for you, well, you can feel good that you helped shake the word “tryptophan” right out of your family tree. In fact, I’m thinking that every year we can try to remove another annoying buzzword from the holiday lexicon. The early favorite for next year is “Black Friday” but I’m open to suggestions. If you have any, send them along to me at oldmantryptophan@gmail.com.

Happy Tryptophan Day Everyone!