Happy Tryptophan Day!

I wrote this eight years ago it’s been a yearly tradition to update it and post it here on the blog for Thanksgiving ever since. Hope you enjoy it, and I hope you enjoy a wonderful holiday week with the ones you love.


I’ve noticed a disturbing trend over the last few years that seems to gain more and more popularity every Thanksgiving.

structure of tryptophan

The trend in question is the overuse of the word ‘tryptophan’. Yes, that mystery substance in turkey that supposedly makes your eyelids heavy after Thanksgiving dinner.

It seems like only yesterday that attributing your post-meal drowsiness to this little-known amino acid made you sound smart. These days, everyone and their mother-in-law can tell you it’s tryptophan that puts you in a couch coma during the Lions game*. The power of tryptophan has become common knowledge, filed somewhere between “black licorice tastes like the devil’s farts” and “nobody cares about your political rants on Facebook”.

*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. As it turns out, tryptophan works best on an empty stomach. So maybe the real reason we sleep after our Thanksgiving meal is because we’ve consumed enough food to feed the entire cast of Modern Family for a week.

My goal is to rid the country of the tryptophan myth one family gathering at a time.

My plan is equal parts idiocy and genius.

My request is that you join me in helping separate tryptophan from the fabric of thanksgiving.

Here’s the plan:

Thanksgiving Morning…

9am – Sleep well and 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 an orange.

There’s always one of these jokers at every Thanksgiving table. They walk in and proudly announce “I’m scarfing down 5 helpings because I haven’t eaten anything since last night!” 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 pocket the tiles you need to spell “tryptophan”.

11am – Clothes selection is huge. You know that festive turtleneck/sweater combo you planned on wearing? Don’t. Both ovens and every burner on the stove will be going full throttle all morning, so it’s going to be hotter than the core of the sun in there. Wear a nice-looking shirt over your tryptophan t-shirt with a loose pair of pants.

Also, remember to pre-adjust your belt loop 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 the conflict in the Gaza Strip.

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.

12:30pm – 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 the meal, but eat quickly so you’re the first one to finish. Then as you’re getting up from the table, pull out the copies of the Tryptophan 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 and find a nice spot in front of the TV to watch some football.

1:15pm – 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 yet?”, or “Who set off the tryptophan bomb?” will all work quite nicely.

2pm – As everyone around you begins to nod off, take a little fake nap of your own. After 5 or 10 minutes, pretend to wake up and shout out “Wow, Old Man Tryptophan just opened up a can of sleepytime on my brain!” 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 heavy objects to throw at your groin.

3pm – With everyone feeling groggy and irritable, initiate some trivial arguments 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 even mean?” excuse yourself and leave the room.

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 “It was a pre-Black Friday sale at the Gap”.

4:30pm – 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 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, wasting a perfectly good hour of their lives. Don’t worry, some day they’ll thank you for it.

5:00pm – Find someone who is drinking coffee and remark “You’re drinking coffee this late?” If 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 offer them a few pieces of the room temperature turkey meat that’s been sitting in your pocket all day. 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 immediately knocked you out.

While fake sleeping, congratulate yourself. Mission Accomplished.

6pm – As you make your exit, be sure to leave the same way you entered, spouting “Happy Tryptophan Day!” to everyone within earshot. Everyone will be so tired of the word “tryptophan” that they will cringe every time they hear it over the next few years. You can bet 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 knowing you helped shake the word “tryptophan” right out of your family tree. Despite what your family members say about you behind your back for the rest of your life, you are a hero.

Happy Tryptophan Day Everyone!