Got milk? We should, especially if we’re hoping to boost our chances of enjoying a blissful night’s sleep. It turns out that Mom’s advice – drink a glass of warm milk before bedtime – is no myth. What’s more, there are legitimate scientific reasons behind this common bedtime ritual.
“Milk can potentially help a person sleep because it contains the amino acid tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin,” says Becky Kerkenbush, a registered dietitian and media representative for the Wisconsin Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “We can thank serotonin for milk’s snooze-inducing properties. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in appetite, sleep, behavior, mood, body temperature and coordination.”
She also points out that milk is a rich source of calcium, which helps muscles relax. And when milk is warmed, it has a soothing effect. As a bonus, it may also evoke comforting memories from childhood.
And one interesting research tidbit for milk lovers: Cows milked at night produced milk with higher levels of tryptophan and melatonin. This “night milk” was used for a study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food. In the study, milk calmed mice and helped them fall asleep faster. Alas, it’s not something you’ll find in the fridge at your local grocery store any time soon.
If you’re looking for some light snacks to pair with your milk, Kerkenbush also recommends:
Bethany Studnicky, staff writer with mattressadvisor.com, is also a fan of warm milk. She calls carbs and protein “the BFFs of a good night’s sleep.” One cup of 1% milk has 12 grams of carbs and 8 grams of protein, which makes it a sleep superstar. Add to the mix amino acids (milk has 12) and milk’s status as a sleep inducer is elevated even further.
Studnicky explains that when tryptophan (an amino acid) enters the bloodstream, your body turns it into a B vitamin called Niacin. Niacin is used in the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that aids in melatonin regulation, your sleep hormone. The bottom line: Tryptophan before bedtime means better sleep.
Be warned though: tryptophan can be stonewalled from entering the bloodstream if it’s not accompanied by complex carbohydrates. That’s why a combination of carbs, protein and melatonin-rich ingredients are bedtime snack winners. With that in mind, we’re sharing Studnicky’s recipe for chewy, delicious, sleep-helping White Night Cookies.
Some researchers also point to the psychological effects of a consistent bedtime routine. Whether it’s brushing your teeth, turning off the lights in the house, putting on your pyjamas or sipping warm milk, those behaviors send signals to your brain–“It’s bedtime!” And those triggers begin the wind down process when both body and brain can relax and reach a state of calm, setting the stage for a good night of sleep.
As Bill Fish, certified sleep coach and co-founder of Tuck.com, says: “Routines are important. Drinking a glass of milk each night may be that routine your body craves to begin your sleep ritual each evening.”
The key to bedtime routines is sticking to them. That means doing them daily and setting a regular time for starting the process each evening.
If you’re hoping to hop on the warm milk bandwagon but can’t because you’re lactose intolerant (an estimated 65% of adult Americans) or follow a vegan diet, take heart. You don’t have to miss out. Many milk alternatives can be sources of protein, too, but the amount varies widely. Here’s how much protein you can find in a serving of one cup of milk:
Want to skip milk altogether? Try other sleep friendly sips like tart cherry juice (rich in melatonin) or a magnesium-enriched drink, like Swanson’s Mellow Mag – Raspberry Lemonade (with 330 mg of magnesium, which helps relax muscles, per serving).
Call Us: +1 800-218-3578
Mon-Fri 10am-9pm PST
Sat-Sun 10am-8pm PST