At one point or another, you may have heard that having a glass of warm milk before bed will help you drift off to sleep. But is this the truth? does warm milk help you sleep or is it just a myth that has gained momentum over time? Like any good myth, there are some elements of truth to consider. And, as with anything related to sleep, the answer is complicated.
There’s no direct evidence that warm milk helps you sleep, but if drinking warm milk before bed is part of your nightly routine, the routine itself is more than likely helping you sleep so it would be unwise to make changes.
Tryptophan and Sleep
We can’t discuss warm milk and sleep without first covering Tryptophan. Along with milk, the Amino Acid Tryptophan is also found in turkey. Most of us tend to feel sleepy after indulging on Thanksgiving Day and as a result turkey, and warm milk are both thought of as useful in helping us get a good night’s sleep due to containing Tryptophan.
And while milk contains Tryptophan, it is just one of 20 essential amino acids we need. Tryptophan is not produced by our bodies naturally. Instead, it comes from foods high in protein such as milk and meat products. Amino acids for those unaware are the building blocks for protein. Our bodies convert Tryptophan into Serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter. One of the roles neurotransmitters perform is to regulate sleep.
All of this would tend to support the theory that warm milk helps us sleep, but as with anything to do with the human body, it’s more complicated than that, the human body is a complicated organism. It just isn’t a simple process of having a glass of warm milk before bed and expecting to go into a sleep state.
The reason being is the Tryptophan has to find its way to your brain if it is to be effective in helping you relax. To do this, it needs to cross the blood brain barrier which puts it in the path of other competing Amino Acids. Competing Amino Acids tend to break Tryptophan down.
It is true that Tryptophan on its own can assist with sleep. But the small amounts found in milk or turkey contain many competing Amino Acids. These competing Amino Acids nullify the chances of the Tryptophan reaching the brain.
Why do I feel sleepy after Thanksgiving Day dinner?
If Turkey really helped us sleep because of the Tryptophan alone, we would need to consume more than 40 pounds of it!
The fact is Turkey meat contains no more Tryptophan than many other meat products. In reality, the bird is getting the blame unfairly.
So why do we feel sleepy after Thanksgiving?
For starters, you more than likely eat more than normal on a particular occasion such as Thanksgiving. You are also more than likely taking in a lot of foods you wouldn’t normally eat every day.
Foods such as deserts are high in carbohydrates. Carbohydrates do not include Tryptophan, but they do increase Serotonin production in the brain. Adding to this is the fact that our digestion system requires a considerable amount of energy.
There is also the feeling of contentment that comes with a satisfying meal. This sense of comfort can put us in a position where are susceptible to falling asleep mopre readily. You can also add the fact that most of us enjoy a drink or two on a particular occasion which can also lead to drowsiness.
Why do babies fall asleep after a bottle of warm milk?
So we know that Tryptophan in milk won’t directly contribute to us falling asleep. But the question remains does warm milk help us sleep? After all, babies often will fall asleep on the bottle. Wouldn’t it be accurate to say warm milk helps babies fall asleep?
Again there is some truth to this statement. But not because milk contains substantial sleep inducements.
The fact is your child will often exhaust themselves on the bottle. Additionally, your baby associates milk with ‘nap’ time and falls into this routine. Kids respond well to routine after all.
It’s this routine that is the reason both babies and adults associate warm milk with sleep. The fact that many of us believe warm milk does help us sleep serves to help us relax. Warm milk becomes part of our bedtime routine.
So does warm milk help you sleep? The scientific world doesn’t credit warm milk with helping us sleep. But It’s wise not to go changing your bedtime routine just yet.
It’s often the routine itself that is helping you sleep after all and if warm milk forms part of this routine I encourage you to drink up, as it’s not going to do you any harm.