Does Ham Really Make You Sleepy? The Science Behind the Myth

It’s a familiar scene – the big holiday meal winds down and soon multiple family members are snoozing on the couch. As you eye your emptied plates scattered with ham bones, a thought crosses your mind – does ham make you sleepy?

This food myth has prevailed for years, but is there any truth to the idea that ham causes drowsiness? I decided to dig into the science and evidence to find out if ham deserves its soporific reputation Let’s slice into this meaty topic!

Why Do People Think Ham is Sleep-Inducing?

There are a few reasons why ham frequently gets blamed for post-meal sleepiness

  • Heavy protein – Ham is high in protein, which takes significant digestive effort. Our bodies may feel fatigued diverting energy to digestion.

  • High tryptophan – Ham contains the amino acid tryptophan, which is linked to feelings of relaxation and sleepiness.

  • Eaten at feasts – Ham is often consumed at large holiday meals, when overeating itself can cause fatigue.

  • Salty and brined – The salt and curing used to produce ham may factor into dehydration and fatigue.

So in some ways, it makes sense why ham would be associated with sleepiness. But is it really the tryptophan to blame? Let’s analyze this further.

The Role of Tryptophan in Sleep and Fatigue

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid found in many protein sources including ham, turkey, chicken, dairy, oats, beans, and nuts. It plays an important role in the production of serotonin and melatonin – key hormones that regulate our sleep/wake cycles and mood.

But here’s the catch – tryptophan alone does not make you sleepy! Here are some facts to understand:

  • Tryptophan must cross the blood-brain barrier to affect serotonin levels. This is a regulated process.

  • Carbohydrates actually help tryptophan cross the blood-brain barrier more easily.

  • Turkey and chicken contain just as much or more tryptophan than ham.

  • L-tryptophan supplements have not been proven to relieve insomnia or enhance sleep quality in studies.

What Really Causes the Post-Meal Sleepies?

Though it’s commonly blamed on tryptophan, there are a few other suspects that could explain why large meals often result in sleepiness:

  • Overeating – Eating more than your body needs to function can cause fatigue as your body works overtime to digest excessive calories.

  • Carb crash – High-carb meals lead to spike and crash of glucose levels, which can exhaust the body.

  • Low blood flow – Digestion diverts blood away from the brain to the gut, depriving your cranium of needed oxygen.

  • Dehydration – Salty, cured meats like ham may contribute to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance.

  • Distended stomach – A stretched and bloated stomach placing pressure on other organs can result in feelings of sleepiness.

  • Late eating – Our circadian rhythms make us primed for sleep later in the day, so large meals close to bedtime disrupt our biological clock.

As you can see, the chemical makeup of ham itself is likely not a direct cause of fatigue. Rather, it’s the quantity, components, and timing of a meal that matter most.

Other Common Foods That Can Cause Drowsiness

While ham tends to get a bad rap for sleepiness, other foods are more notorious for causing post-meal fatigue:

  • Pasta – High glycemic index means energy peaks and crashes fast.

  • Pizza – The carb-laden crust and cheese both contribute to fatigue.

  • Fast food – Greasy burgers and fries require huge digestive efforts.

  • Sweets – Candies, cakes, and sugary desserts lead to an insulin spike and crash.

  • Alcohol – Wine, beer, cocktails, and liquor are downer drinks.

  • Cheese – High in fat, calcium, and amino acids that affect sleep hormones.

  • Bread – Another high glycemic index food that spikes and drops glucose.

In most cases, it’s the quantity and components of what we eat, rather than any single food, that makes us feel drowsy.

Tips to Prevent Post-Meal Sleepiness

If you want to enjoy meals without the unwanted nap afterward, here are some tips:

  • Eat lighter meals – Don’t overload your digestive system.

  • Time it right – Avoid big meals close to bedtime.

  • Slow digestion – Start meals with veggies or salad.

  • Stay hydrated – Drink water before and during the meal.

  • Include fiber – Choose whole grains to stabilize blood sugar spikes.

  • Have coffee – A cup of joe after a meal can perk you up.

  • Get moving – Light activity after eating helps blood and oxygen flow.

  • Sleep well – Catching up on sleep improves daytime energy levels.

The Verdict on Ham and Sleepiness

Based on the evidence, ham does not appear to contain any exceptionally sleep-promoting properties beyond any other protein food. The amino acid tryptophan is surely not present in high enough amounts to directly cause drowsiness after a meal.

However, the realities of overeating, poor dietary choices, and disruptions to normal digestive processes during feasts can make us all feel a little sluggish. So don’t be too quick to blame the ham! With mindful eating habits, it and other nutritious foods can be enjoyed as part

Does Eating Turkey Make You Sleepy?


Why do I feel sleepy after eating ham?

Pork or mutton are high in fat and difficult to digest. The harder a dish is to digest, the more tired you feel after a meal.

What in meat makes you sleepy?

Beef is also a leading producer of tryptophan, so eating steak may leave you with the same sleepy feeling as turkey does. It’s best to eat steak as a late lunch or an early dinner, so your body has plenty of time to start the digestion process and get that tryptophan moving through to get you into the mood for sleep.

Why do I get tired after eating?

An amino acid called tryptophan, which occurs in many protein-rich foods, helps the body produce serotonin. Carbohydrates help the body absorb tryptophan. For these reasons, eating a meal rich in both protein and carbohydrates may make a person feel sleepy. Tryptophan occurs in foods that are rich in protein.

What foods make you sleepy tired?

This sleep-related hormone naturally occurs in some foods and drinks, including tart cherries (or juice made from it), oats, pistachios, mushrooms, tomatoes, and eggs. Foods high in tryptophan. This amino acid can promote feelings of tiredness, too.

Is ham good for You?

Ham is a popular deli meat, appetizer, and entrée that you’ve likely eaten on sandwiches or with holiday meals. It’s a pork product that comes from pigs’ legs. The red meat is usually preserved with salt or smoke, though this process varies depending on the type. Since it’s a processed meat, you may wonder whether ham is good for you.

Is honey baked ham as good as regular ham?

The addition of honey will affect the calorie content of the food. One tablespoon of honey contributes to approximately 64 calories. In addition, the use of heat when making baked ham will reduce the quality of the honey.

Is Ham a good protein?

Compared with poultry and fish, pork products like ham are higher in iron, thiamine, and other B vitamins. Yet, pork may be lower in some nutrients than other red meats, such as beef ( 5 ). Ham also provides all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein.

What are the disadvantages of cooking a ham?

In addition, ham may have several drawbacks. Curing and smoking — the primary cooking methods for ham — result in higher concentrations of several known carcinogens, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), N -nitroso compounds (NOCs), and heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAAs) ( 5, 52, 53 ).

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