If you’ve ever started nodding after consuming a tasty cheese plate, you are not alone. Several people (including myself) often get drowsy after consuming dairy products, especially cheese. Is there a scientific reason why this happens?
Cheese can make you sleepy due to its high content of tryptophan, which produces serotonin and melatonin, inducing sleep. Also, other foods eaten with cheese (wine) can have sedative effects. Finally, cheese is high in calcium and magnesium, which helps your body use tryptophan, and produces a relaxing effect.
In this article, I will explore the science related to cheese and why you get sleepy when you consume it.
5 Reasons Why Cheese Can Make You Sleepy
1. Cheese Has Tryptophan
Tryptophan is an amino acid that has benefits when it comes to sleep. This amino acid can be converted into serotonin (the happy hormone) and melatonin (the hormone that regulates our sleep and wake cycle).
A study showed that those people with a greater tryptophan intake have a longer sleep, better quality, and restful night. At the end of the study, their anxiety levels were slightly decreased, and they went to sleep faster.
You don’t need to take very large doses of tryptophan to get its benefits. A study showed that consuming one gram of tryptophan (around 200 g of cheese) 45 minutes before going to bed can make you fall asleep faster.
2. Other Foods You Eat With Cheese Can Also Make You Tired
One of the reasons you might be getting sleepy is that there might be another food that makes you tired instead of cheese. When we think of a cheese platter, we typically have it with a nice glass of wine.
Alcohol is a depressant of the central nervous system. This means it shuts down your brain, having a sedative effect of making you feel tired and sleepy. However, this effect might last only a couple of hours. Alcohol before bedtime can make you actually have a poor night’s sleep (it makes you fall asleep faster but with poorer quality).
3. Cheese Is High In Calcium and Magnesium
Calcium is one of the minerals found in dairy products. One of the benefits of calcium is that it helps the brain use tryptophan to induce melatonin production. This can be an explanation of why dairy can induce sleep. It contains calcium and tryptophan in one food.
Additionally, although it is not the highest source of magnesium, cheese contains some magnesium. This mineral is important to promote sleep since it has been shown to help the muscles relax, which is one reason why bodybuilders eat cheese on a high protein diet.
4. Allergy To Dairy
A food allergy can have several symptoms in your body. One of them is making you feel more fatigued during the day. Having an allergy to dairy protein can make you have gastrointestinal issues (like stomach cramps, bloating, or diarrhea), but it can also make you feel sleepy.
If you suspect that you have a dairy allergy, contact your healthcare provider to make the appropriate tests. Even a minor allergy will create fatigue in the body.
5. Psychological Effects
Ever since we were babies, we’ve had the comfort of dairy (our mother’s milk) to provide food and warmth. Some theories have stated that dairy products (like a glass of warm milk or some melted cheese) can produce a placebo effect when it comes to sleep.
Thus, this can produce a comforting feeling that makes some people want to go to sleep. However, it might not be the case for everyone, and more research needs to be done on the psychological effect of cheese.
- Related Article: Cheese Makes Me Sweat: 5 Reasons & How To Fix
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Tryptophan In Cheese Compared With Other Foods
The following table compares the highest foods in tryptophan. They are based on 100 g of each food.
|Food||Tryptophan content (g)|
When it comes to high tryptophan foods, the leading one is pumpkin seeds with 570 mg of tryptophan per 100g. However, the difference compared to cheese is very small since cheese has 550 mg of tryptophan.
Thus, these are great options to consume before bed if you have trouble falling asleep. Alternatively, if you want to sustain your energy throughout the day, you may want to avoid these foods.
3 Types of Cheese That Makes You More Sleepy
Cheese has different tryptophan content. The following table can find the top three kinds of cheese higher in tryptophan.
The content is based on 100 g of each cheese.
|Cheese||Tryptophan content (g)|
Mozzarella cheese is an excellent option for those that want to include a high tryptophan food. Regarding its nutritional value, you can find it below.
- Calories: 199
- Carbs: 2.4 g
- Protein: 22.2 g
- Fats: 22.1 g
Mozzarella cheese is high in fat. While this is not a bad thing, you need to be careful with the fat content since it makes it higher in calories. It goes along nicely on a sandwich or as a way to increase your protein content in a salad. You can always opt for the low-fat version for those trying to lose weight.
Cheddar cheese is the one that has the most tryptophan content. However, it is the one that has the higher fat and caloric content too.
- Calories: 403
- Carbs: 3.4 g
- Protein: 22.9 g
- Fats: 33.3 g
While it has a high tryptophan content, its high fat intake could make your digestion slower, which could potentially cause some people to have indigestion. Thus, it might make you fall asleep, but it might wake you up later on due to stomach problems
Finally, the other cheese high in tryptophan is parmesan cheese. The nutritional content of parmesan cheese is the following.
- Calories: 392
- Carbs: 3.2 g
- Protein: 35.8 g
- Fats: 25.0 g
Parmesan cheese is a great source of tryptophan. It is the one with the highest amount of protein. However, depending on the type and brand, it might be higher sodium than the other two. Thus, you need to be careful to consume a high sodium diet (consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day) since it might lead to high blood pressure.
Ways To Avoid Getting Sleepy From Cheese
Do a dairy detox
It might take a long time to detox entirely from dairy (it might even take 2-3 weeks). If you want to go from full dairy mode to no dairy, I advise you to start slow (especially if you are a constant diary consumer).
Slow and steady changes are better than going cold turkey. In my experience, those people who cut their intake by ¾, then by half, and finally eradicate it can have long-lasting results.
Doing a dairy detox can help you reduce any gastrointestinal discomfort you get from them, and avoiding it will prevent you from getting sleepy at night when you consume it.
- Cheese can also make you sweat. Find out why.
Try plant-based cheese
Another option to avoid getting sleepy with cheese is to opt for a non-dairy alternative. Plant-based cheese is often made with almond milk, which won’t provide you the same drowsy effect.
However, keep in mind that they have different macronutrients. Cheese is an excellent source of protein and fat (unless it’s low-fat). Plant-based cheese doesn’t have any protein, and it only contains fats.
While this is a perfectly acceptable option, you just need to be careful that you cannot replace them and expect the same calories and macro content. Thus, read the nutritional label accordingly and track any food in a tracking app to ensure you are reaching your daily goals.
Eat cheese in moderation
If you want to consume cheese but avoid getting sleepy, the best option is to reduce your eating amount. Everyone has a different tolerance for how much cheese makes them tired, or they can tolerate it.
My recommendation is to start with a lower intake (30 g) and check if any symptoms arise. If you are fine, you can increase it by another 30 g and so on until you get your daily tolerance.
Pick low tryptophan cheese
To avoid getting the drowsy effect of cheese; you might want to choose those that are low in tryptophan. The cheese with the lowest tryptophan content (per 100 g of food) is ricotta (0.12 g), Neufchatel cheese (0.11 g), and cream cheese (0.07 g).
The first two options are great protein sources, while the third option doesn’t contain a significant amount of protein, and it is primarily fat.
Eat Cheese at Night When You’re Supposed to Go to Sleep
Finally, to prevent getting sleepy during the day when you eat cheese, but you don’t want to eliminate it, the best solution is to have it at night. Take advantage of this benefit if you have a hard time falling asleep.
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About The Author
Brenda Peralta is a Registered Dietitian and certified sports nutritionist. In addition to being an author for FeastGood.com, she fact checks the hundreds of articles published across the website to ensure accuracy and consistency of information.