The Tryptophan Report:
A Quantitative Effort Toward
Post-Thanksgiving Slumber

Based on original analysis by researcher Chris Camiolo.

November 23rd, 2017
8 minute read

A great innovation has been made in the world of sleep. No longer does one need to guess where the best spot in the house to sleep is. Through hard statistics, researchers have rated the most important sleep spots according to a novel scale of napping comfort. Now, your post-Thanksgiving nap can be optimized and even extended, depending on how wise your choice of sleeping location is.

However, prior to attempting to understand the new scale, it is important to cover the academic background of this incredibly serious topic. Some readers may want to skim the following section if, for example, they are already versed in biochemistry or are, somehow, bored by it.

There exists an extensive scholarship on the α-amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan is important in mammalian biology (Richard et al.) for its role as a precursor in the biosynthesis of serotonin. Serotonin, in turn, has profound effects on digestion, appetite, and metabolism (Jenkins et al.). Serotonin and tryptophan both function as part of the bodily system that regulates wakefulness, as well.

It is because of this that the popular perception exists that ingestion of large amounts of tryptophan-rich foods can cause drowsiness. In quantities above 1 g P.O., tryptophan is produces a subjectively noticeable sedation (Hartmann).

Turkey breast is a food which is rich in tryptophan, containing a quarter gram of tryptophan per 100 g meat (Holden). This means that one need only consume three quarters to a pound of turkey to experience drowsiness. Though many eaters would shy away from such a large portion, many certainly wouldn’t.

In light of this thorough body of research, SWISCO Researcher Chris Camiolo has taken the science a step further. If, in fact, turkey consumption makes people drowsy, Camiolo reasoned, it is vital to ensure that these sedated people can find somewhere to safely rest after Thanksgiving dinner.

A study was undertaken to test the sleep qualities of each location in an ordinary house. The methodology is as follows.

METHODOLOGY

In the original data collection, Camiolo simply slept a lot: in chairs, on sofas; in beds. After gathering a statistically robust data sample of sleeping locations, Camiolo took to the books, analyzing the results of his intensive hours of sleep prior to Turkey Day.

The analysis revealed a distinct clustering in Camiolo’s sleep patterns. Reliably, he experienced  operationally-defined “better” sleep when he slept in certain locations. For purposes of this study, “better” sleep is defined to refer to deeper, longer sleep.

A non-statistical analysis was then used to reduce the list of sleeping locations to an ordered scale, where each subsequent location was better for sleep than the last. The difference between the sleep quality at each location was uneven and thus could not be defined using existing units of measurement. A variable unit was defined for the purposes of the study: the Z-unit.

LIMITATIONS

The Z unit represents the minimum level of comfort needed to make a difference in sleep quality. One might say that with increased comfort, the subject is able to “catch” more Z-units.

The “null value” (or Z0) was defined as the standing position, where sleep is impossible, and each sleeping location after that was labeled Z, ZZ, ZZZ, … and so on. This, of course, is a limitation of the Z-scale, because it can never be determined how much better ZZ is than Z, or ZZZ than ZZ.

RESULTS

What follows is a description of each sleeping location in order from highest to lowest score on the Z-scale. Please note that a section of important considerations and influencing factors will follow. These Z-scale ratings are all approximate and should not be taken to reflect the actual sleep value of the location without a full analysis.

THE BACKLESS BARSTOOL (Z)

After failing to sleep in a standing position, Camiolo moved on to what he hypothesized to be the worst seat in the house: the backless bar stool. Why there is a barstool in the house at all remains unclear, and the topic was beyond the scope of Camiolo’s study.

Only in situations of extreme sleep deprivation is it possible to sleep in a backless chair. Even then, the subject is relying on balance, which will quickly give way as they begin to fall asleep, leading to a serious case of “the nods.” It’s logistically infeasible to catch more than a single Z while sitting on a stool.

THE DINING ROOM CHAIR (ZZ)

The next location analyzed was the dining room chair. If moved far enough into a corner of the kitchen, it’s possible to sleep steadily in a wooden chair, but it’s not going to be comfortable.

There may or may not be a seat cushion, and the back of the chair will do a number on your neck, no matter what position you settle in. Further, quality of sleep is lowered by the chair’s close proximity to the clanging of pots in the kitchen, as the family members who remain awake hurry to clean up after the meal. You’re going to be catching some weak Zs.

THE FLOOR IN FRONT OF THE TV (ZZZ)

Better than the dining room chair is the spot in front of the couch: the one in front of the TV. The football game on the screen is a give-and-take. You may be lulled to sleep by commercials, but the shouting in the room and the roar of the stadium will periodically wake you. You can lean against the couch, though, so it’s not all bad.

However, a serious qualifier is the presence or absence of a carpet on the floor. Sitting on hardwood is going to knock one Z off your snooze, for sure.

THE LOVE SEAT (ZZZZ, ZZZZ)

The love seat is a portrait of egalitarianism: two seats, each with an armrest; perfect equality. If you stay out of each other’s way, you and another family member can both catch solid sleep on a loveseat, but you’re going to be limited by your other relative. They could lean on you and absolutely ruin the spot, or spread their legs like a bum and take up all your space. There are better sleep options to be found elsewhere in the house.

IN YOUR CAR (ZZZZZ)

To avoid human contact completely, you can disappear to your car. Run heat for a minute, if necessary, recline your seat back, and pass out in solitude. You’re going to catch some steady, even sleep, at the expense of a bit of gas from your car.

Be aware, however: your relatives may not appreciate you skipping out on them.

THE ROCKING CHAIR (ZZZZZZ)

One of the first truly comfortable sleeping options after you’re finished with your plate of starch, fat, and protein is the rocking chair in the back of the room. It’s tucked away in the quiet corner that the older relatives prefer to sit in, and it leans back just enough to let your neck lay flat while you rock yourself to sleep.

However, it’s still wooden, so you can do better than this six-Z powerhouse.

THE SOFA (ZZZZZZZ, ZZZ, ZZZZZZZ)

The sofa is a complex subject. Camiolo ended up sleeping on sofas for three straight nights to try to tease out the details of how to measure Zs on a sofa. The final analysis revealed incredibly high Z-levels on the outer regions of the sofa, namely the left and right cushion. The sleep quality drastically decreased in the center, however, falling off to a mere three Zs. This, of course, assumes that the couch is fully occupied. Unoccupied, the sofa can be laid on, offering an additional Z of sleep.

Camiolo noted that his prediction about the center seat has external validity, meaning it applies to the real world. Remember, the floor in front of the TV also scores three Zs. It’s unclear which spot is better than the other, as the floor-sitter can always get up into the middle seat on the couch, and the couch-sitter can always slide down to the floor to get away from the two mouth-breathing relatives on either side.

THE RECLINER (ZZZZZZZZ)

As far as the living room, the recliner is king. It may be a La-Z-Boy every other day, but on Thanksgiving, it steps up and acts like a La-Z-Man. Adjust the angle to get your neck in the perfect position, and kick your feet up. You are the ruler of this domain. Revel in it.

THE GUEST BED (ZZZZZZZZZ)

If you’re really in tight with the host family, you can probably make a power move and track down a nine-Z sleeping location. The prime spot is the guest bed. You might have to complain of a stomach ache to get the spot offered to you, but it will be worth it. A closed door, blankets, and silence can’t be beaten. Just don’t pass out too long, or you’ll be staying the night unintentionally.

THE MASTER BED (ZZZZZZZZZZ)

The final sleeping spot analyzed by Camiolo was easily the most powerful. It’s a spot that has rarely been utilized in the entire history of Thanksgiving feasts: the master bed. I’m not talking about your own bed. I’m talking about the host’s bed. There’s no way in the world that your uncle is going to offer up his bed, so if you snag this spot, it will be by pure subterfuge. Sneak upstairs, creep into the master suite, and lay yourself down (full of food) Goldilocks-style. Just don’t get caught pulling off this legendary Thanksgiving nap move.

CONSIDERATIONS

The Z-scale is a powerful statistical tool, but it is not the be-all, end-all. In addition to the creation of the Z-scale, Camiolo’s research identified some important factors that moderate and mediate the effectiveness of the scale. Adjustments may need to be made to the Z-score of a given location, as follows.

  • Is there a baby?

This is going to pretty much ruin everything. If there’s a baby in the room, remove a Z from the Z-score. If the baby and the kitchen are both in earshot, remove two Zs. A baby in the house can strongly skew Z-scores in the house, making it such that your best option is sleeping out in the car, or upstairs in a bedroom.

  • Is there a fireplace?

A fireplace can make a huge difference. If there’s a cozy fire in the room, you can certainly add a Z to the score. If you’re directly in front of the fire, add two, but don’t get burnt. This factor can greatly improve the sleep value of the seat on the floor in front of the TV. With a fire by your side, the floor seat becomes far more comfortable than the middle sofa seat: an unprecedented effect.

  • Alcohol? Caffeine?

Depending how much you drank and what, you’re going to have physiological effects on your Z score. These factors are purely personal and can’t be blamed on the sleeping location, but it’s a simple fact that a few glasses of wine will add a Z. Similarly, too much Coca-Cola in your cup is going to have you wired. Add a Z. If you have the after-dinner coffee, add two.

  • How much food?

One of the biggest factors in sleep quality is the amount of food you eat. Approximately one Z of sleep quality per pound can be added by packing in extra grub, and the more food you consume, the quicker the sleepiness will overtake you.

  • The coats…

Although less of a factor than food, coats are easily the greatest threat to the sleep value of the higher-end sleep locations. Somehow, it’s always the top five spots that get buried under a pile of jackets. Coat racks essentially don’t exist anymore, so you can guarantee that somebody is going to start a dog pile on the recliner, or the rocking chair, or even a bed, taking that spot completely out of commission.

Coats on the sofa can turn it into a de facto loveseat, or they can function as the worst possible companion for the middle cushion. The coats are going to remove (easily) a Z from each side of the sofa, which really reduces the overall value of the location. In case of coats, seek alternate sleeping arrangements.

CONCLUSION

There is still a need for further research. As mentioned above, there is currently no standard value of a Z-unit. It would entirely be possible to probe the issue further and explore what makes a difference between one Z-score and another. Similarly, other sleeping locations could be identified and rated. It’s currently unclear if there is a unit smaller than the Z, as well. These concepts and more will be the inspiration for another round of testing and analysis from Camiolo – maybe after Christmas dinner.

WORKS CITED

Hartmann, Ernest. “Effects of L-Tryptophan on Sleepiness and on Sleep.” Journal of Psychiatric Research, vol. 17, no. 2, 1982, pp. 107–113., doi:10.1016/0022-3956(82)90012-7.

Holden, Joanne M. “USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 22.” Nutrient Data Laboratory Home Page, 2009, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.

Jenkins, Trisha, et al. “Influence of Tryptophan and Serotonin on Mood and Cognition with a Possible Role of the Gut-Brain Axis.” Nutrients, vol. 8, no. 1, 2016, p. 56., doi:10.3390/nu8010056.

Richard, Dawn M, et al. “L-Tryptophan: Basic Metabolic Functions, Behavioral Research and Therapeutic Indications.” International Journal of Tryptophan Research, vol. 2, 2009, doi:10.4137/ijtr.s2129.

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