Warm milk, to me, reminds me of two things: a baby wrapped in a soft blanket, laying with its mother and sucking sleepily from a bottle, and the scene from the Disney movie Aristocats – where four kittens and their mother lap up their milk. The butler says, “Sleep well—I mean, eat well,” to the cats as relaxing French music plays in the background. In this scene, he is tricking the cats by putting sleeping pills into their milk to make them fall asleep; however, the unsuspecting cats are quite relaxed with their milk.
Childhood and society have conditioned some of us to associate milk with a comforting feeling, which makes some of us sleepy and ready for bed. But what exactly about milk makes us go to sleep? Is it chemical or is it just comforting? The idea of drinking warm milk before bed to initiate sleep has been passed down for generations, with claims varying from the tryptophan in milk, comforting memories of childhood, or the sleepy result of having a satisfied full stomach. But which of these, if any, are true?
With distractions like iPhones, Netflix, and TVs, it is reported,
“forty-eight percent of Americans report insomnia occasionally, while 22 percent experience insomnia every, or almost every, night.”
This is according to informational website National Sleep Foundation. Some claim that the tryptophan in milk produces a sleeping effect when consumed; however, The University of Arkansas for Medical Science’s website explains that this is unlikely. They go further to say that “the ‘milk myth’ may have persisted because milk has small amounts of tryptophan, the raw material the brain uses to build both serotonin and melatonin. These compounds that help us relax and prepare for sleep. However, there is not enough tryptophan in a normal serving of milk to cause any real drowsiness.”
In essence, drinking milk is not chemically causing you to feel tired. Michael Breus, PhD, further explains on Dr. Oz’s website Share Care that “the amount of tryptophan required to make someone sleepy is about 1g; the amount of tryptophan in an 80z glass of milk is about 0.08g. You would need to drink almost ½ quarts of warm milk to really have any effect from the tryptophan.” In all honesty, that would is more likely to have an uneasy effect on your stomach than make you feel restful.
So, if the tryptophan isn’t the cause behind warm milk’s relaxing effect, what is?
Going back to the image of a snuggly baby drinking milk and the sleepy kittens lapping up their bowls of milk, Michael Breus of Share Care explains the following:
“[Warm milk] represents a pattern of behavior that is a psychological trigger for relaxation. If you couldn’t fall asleep if you had a bad dream and your mother gave you warm milk as a child for comfort, warm milk might help you recall those feelings of comfort, which will be relaxing and help you fall [a]sleep.”
Warm milk, for many of us, is associated with comforting moments from childhood and, therefore, might help us relax into an easy, plentiful sleep.
Verdict: False. Warm milk does not physically do anything to our bodies to help us sleep. It seems this myth is strictly psychologically-based. If warm milk doesn’t bring you any sleep relief, try powering down your phone and other electronics at least twenty minutes before going to bed and/or going to sleep at the same time every night. If you think a glass of warm milk beforehand will help you sleep better, give it a try! Milk is great source of protein and calcium and is a healthy bedtime drink. If you are suffering from insomnia, it is important to speak with your doctor to find a remedy that is healthy for you.
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