Do you struggle to get to sleep? Do you spend hours awake staring at the clock or willing yourself to nod off?
If you’ve had sleepless nights and found yourself overtired, grumpy and just plain exhausted the next day then you’ve probably scoured the internet for all sorts of cures and old wives tales.
But does warm milk help you sleep? It’s a tried and tested method used for generations to help you on your way to the land of dreams but is there any science behind it?
We’ve investigated to see if a warm cup will cure that insomnia.
Where Did It Come From?
So we all know about drinking warm milk to get to sleep but when did it actually start? The answer is unclear as it has been passed down through generations but it started becoming a recommended way to cure sleeplessness decades ago.
But what began as a home remedy passed down through word of mouth has become a medically recommended way to get yourself to sleep. Even though the doctors of years gone by didn’t fully understand the science behind the cure, it was still readily recommended for people who were struggling to nod off.
In bygone days, milk and honey was a cheap and readily available drink which was enjoyed by people of all ages. In fact, with most people owning a cow and having access to honey pretty easily (if you could avoid getting stung!) it was a pretty free commodity. In recent times, however, milk is seen as something only for babies and small children.
Of course, as we grow older it is rarer to drink warm milk without anything added. Many of us prefer it with a shot of espresso! But there is plenty of evidence to say a cup of warm milk still gives the same level of helpful hormones that we relied on as babies.
Going back to our childhoods, some psychologists believe the act of drinking warm milk before bed takes us back to being a child in our minds and the association of the drink with the bedtime routine could also help you drop off.
Is There Any Science Behind It?
In short – yes. What you’re really looking for in milk is tryptophan. This boosts the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin in your body making you drowsy. Many people forget the brain is the command centre for our whole body – sending out hormones which can change how we think and feel.
By ingesting tryptophan, your body will speed up the production of melatonin from the pineal gland. The body naturally produces more melatonin at night time as our bodies ready themselves for sleep but some people they don’t produce enough which leads to them feeling wide awake when they should be winding down.
Jet lag, night shifts or nursing a new baby can throw your body’s natural circadian rhythm out of whack and send your melatonin production into overdrive – or stop it altogether. But by drinking a warm cup of milk you can encourage your body to produce the sleeping hormone and send yourself into what I like to call “night mode”.
What Type Of Milk Is Best?
So, you’ve decided that you’re going to try this method. But what milk is best? Should you go for full fat or will 1% work just as well?
Studies show the fattier the milk, the more sleep-inducing hormone. Scientists fed rats either skimmed or whole milk and cream then monitored the changes in the amount of tryptophan there was. The subject that drank cream had far more of the hormone in their system than the rats that drank the skimmed product.
So it might not help you lose weight, but in the long term you are more likely to get to sleep faster with a whole milk or cream than by picking up the lower fat alternatives (sorry!).
Is There Anything Else I Can Do?
The secret sleep ingredient, tryptophan, is also found in turkey which may explain why so many people fall straight to sleep after Christmas and Thanksgiving dinner! Chicken, nuts and seeds are also rich in tryptophan which will also aid your body to produce melatonin.
In order to make these hormones work fast, fill up the rest of your dinner plate with starchy foods like pasta, rice or potato. But for a real tryptophan starch double whammy, choose kidney beans as they include both ingredients. Just make sure to wash it all down with a warm mug of milk!
Other advice includes cutting out caffeine, avoiding sugary foods around bedtime and trying to reduce the amount of time you spend looking at a screen just before you go to bed. Experts also advise trying to get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day which will reduce stress and aid a better night’s sleep.
You can also look at your sleep environment. Change your sheets, clear the bedroom of clutter and make sure it is the correct temperature.
But if you’ve tried everything and you’re still struggling to drop off, give this a try. Make yourself a turkey and oatcake sandwich with a large cup of warm milk about an hour before bed and then just sit back and get ready for a nice, relaxing rest.
So the myth is true, warm milk really does help you get to sleep.
The hormones in your brain triggered by drinking milk can really relax you and help you feel drowsy at bedtime. This is one myth that has been proved correct many times!
But even if the science doesn’t work for you the psychology might. Whether the milk releases enough of the magical hormone to help you fall to sleep or not, remembering being lovingly tucked up in bed as a kid with a bottle of warm milk might just calm your mind enough to help you get to sleep.
Do you know someone struggling to sleep? Share this article with them and comment below. You never know who may be needing the advice!