Tryptophan – Latest Research Included

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If you've been thinking about how people sleep, you might have encountered tryptophan once. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, which means that the human body requires it and that people have to eat it. We will explore the functions tryptophan does to the body and how it connects to sleep, what foods are rich in tryptophan, and whether tryptophan supplements are secure.

Does Tryptophan Make You Sleepy?

The research suggests that taking tryptophan may assist people to fall asleep more quickly and increase sleep quality.

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That said, tryptophan isn't likely to cause a person to need an immediate nap, despite the lore surrounding tryptophan-containing Thanksgiving turkey.

Sleep-related studies that use tryptophan typically focus on how tryptophan consumption impacts a person's sleeping patterns at night, as tryptophan isn't typically known to make people feel tired instantly. Certain research on tryptophan involves feeding people foods that are rich in tryptophan, whereas others involve the administration of tryptophan supplements to people.

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Tryptophan is likely to contribute to better sleep since the body utilizes it to create serotonin, a neurotransmitter. Serotonin regulates sleep and produces the hormone melatonin that promotes sleep. Like tryptophan and other foods, those with melatonin or serotonin have been proven to help promote better sleep.

What Foods Contain Tryptophan?

Many foods contain tryptophan, which includes:


Meats and poultry are a source of the highest levels of tryptophan among all food items.

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Lamb shoulder roast has the most tryptophan of all meats, with a serving containing 252% of your daily dose. Other meats high in tryptophan are pork chops, skirt steak, pork tenderloin chuck steak, ground pork roasted ham, and ribeye steak.


Poultry, like turkey and chicken, is well-known for having tryptophan. A roasted chicken leg has 249 percent of the recommended daily dose. Other poultry items that are high in tryptophan include lean chicken breasts, roast goose, and boneless skinless chicken legs.


Egg products and dairy such as milk, cheese, and egg whites are rich in tryptophan. Of these, a glass of high-fat milk has the highest amount and provides 80 percent of the recommended daily dose of tryptophan. Other dairy products rich in tryptophan are skim milk and 1% milk. They also include whole cottage cheese, milk mozzarella, and ricotta cheese. A large egg contains approximately 70% of a daily dose of tryptophan.


Sockeye salmon has the highest concentration of tryptophan, offering 203% of the daily recommended intake. Other fish species high in tryptophan include bluefin tuna and grouper, whelk, and yellowfin tuna. Wild-caught coho, Atlantic salmon Snapper, yellowtail, northern pike, cod mackerel, and tilapia also contain tryptophan.

Nuts and seeds

A lot of nuts and seeds contain tryptophan. The most abundant are pumpkin seeds, Chia seeds, hemp seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, black walnuts, cashews and pistachios, and peanuts.


Oat bran, oats, and buckwheat are among the top in tryptophan and provide more than 100 percent of the daily reference index. The grains that have lower levels of tryptophan are sorghum, quinoa, and teff grains, as well as whole wheat.


Soybeans are among the beans that have the highest tryptophan content. Edamame and tofu each contain more than 100 percent of the daily index of reference. Other beans that are high in tryptophan are navy beans, white beans, canned baked beans, kidney beans, and pinto beans.

Are Tryptophan Supplements Safe?

Certain studies have shown that tryptophan supplements can enhance the quality of sleep and decrease anxiety. However, the research regarding the use of tryptophan for sleep is somewhat limited. Consult a physician before taking tryptophan to determine if it's appropriate for you and the dosage you should be taking.

If you are taking tryptophan that is higher than levels that are naturally present in food, it can be harmful for those who are nursing or pregnant.

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It can also interact with sedatives and nervous system depressants, which can cause excessive fatigue. Tryptophan alters the levels of serotonin and can be a trigger for any medication that can alter serotonin levels. Avoiding tryptophan when taking supplements containing hops and kava is recommended. Also, melatonin, kava valerian, 5-HTP seed SAMe, and St. John's wort.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prohibited tryptophan-based supplements in the U.S. after a related illness outbreak in 1988 and 1989.

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The FDA lifted the ban in 2001 after they determined that the supplements were all made by the same company and that the adverse consequences were due to the manufacturing procedure. Since then, no research has discovered any significant health risks associated with tryptophan supplements.

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“It's difficult to determine what effect tryptophan can have on someone, particularly if they're taking medications or other supplements. It's recommended to talk with your doctor before trying Tryptophan-based supplements.”

  • Dr. Dustin Cotliar
  • Sleep Medicine Physician,
  • MD

What Are the Potential Side Effects of Tryptophan?

In the majority of studies, there haven't been any serious side effects from tryptophan supplementation. However, some adverse effects can be experienced.

  • Dizziness
  • Tiredness
  • Dry mouth
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Stomachache
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Appetite loss
  • Blurry vision
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