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Does Warm Milk Help You Sleep? Is It A Reliable Old Wives' Tale? | Is it a Myth or a Valid Sleep Aid?

Does warm milk help you sleep can be a confusing question to answer? Is it a reliable old wives’ tale or a myth? Who doesn’t love the debunking of a good old time myth? Well, while most of them are wrong, some are right too. The age of science has helped to establish the credibility of both opinions. Whether warm milk does help people sleep, is a question that has no one-word answer.

Evidence exists that supports and rejects the truth of this widely accepted fact and this is because there are people that swear by the truth of this remedy while it has no effect on others.

Let’s dig in to find out more about this fact!

Warm milk for sleep?

Milk contains tryptophan, tryptophan is an amino acid. Amino acids are the building blocks that form proteins and other chemicals that work to alter different functions of the body.

Tryptophan, when consumed, is converted to serotonin in the body. Serotonin is a chemical naturally found in the brain. High levels of serotonin induce relaxation of the brain and it’s functions and hence promotes sleep. So this should mean that this myth is in fact true.

What is Tryptophan's RoleWhat is Tryptophan's Role

But it isn’t. Research has proved that serotonin has been linked to sleep induction but, the amount of milk required to induce sleep would be far too much to consume.

Serotonin has been known to induce fatigue and eventually sleep. Even though incredibly large amounts of serotonin is required, serotonin only helps the consumer fall asleep. It only induces the first stage of sleep and had little to no role in the different stages of sleep that followed. It has been seen that serotonin has negative effects on the amount of deep-sleep in people. This means that people may fall asleep early enough but they don’t wake up almost that well rested.

The deeper phases are where most of the relaxation of the brain takes place so if not enough time is spent in the deep state of sleep, you end with waking up more exhausted in the morning than the night before. This is more often seen in people that take tryptophan supplements.

Activation of Night Mode

We’ve been talking about tryptophan for quite some time now. Tryptophan is used in the formation of another chemical called melatonin. Melatonin is the sleep hormone. It works to regulate the circadian (day and night) rhythm of the body. Increase in levels of melatonin can help to correct any small and temporary disturbances of the circadian rhythm of an individual.

Activation of Night ModeActivation of Night Mode

These disturbances may be caused by just about anything from jet lag to nursing babies and all the way tonight shifts. These high-stress situations decrease drowsiness considerably. This small boost in the production of melatonin, because of the consumption of tryptophan, works to correct any abnormalities of the circadian rhythm if present. It helps to kick your body and brain into what can be called the winding down or ‘Night Mode’.

What you eat matters

One of the most important things to know is that the brain is smart and knows what you need and when. A protective mechanism of the brain is that if a large amount of protein is consumed, the brain closed off its gates (the blood-brain-barrier) to all chemicals that it doesn’t need.

For the serotonin produced to actually induce sleep, it must cross into the brain, how is this possible?

Flooding the gates in the hope that some serotonin gets through isn’t the best course of action. Instead, sneaking a little tryptophan-rich food with a high-carb meal can trick the brain into accepting the serotonin that the tryptophan forms. Once the serotonin gets entry into the brain, it causes the brain function to slow and thus induces a state of drowsiness. These are the two ingredients to the perfect night-time snack.

More people face sleeping problems in the world now than ever before. Avoidance of certain items for a distinct period of time have been proved time and again to improve bother the quality and quantity of shut-eye you get each night. First and foremost, when drinking warm milk, it should have no additives.

One of the most common milk additives is coffee which contains caffeine. Sugary foods should be avoided as best as possible. Regular exercise and a decrease in the amount of screen time has also been proved to do wonders for sleep patterns.

Related: The Best Tea for Sleep

The Effect of a Full Stomach

We all know about the ‘fight or flight’ instinct that the body has. This is the instinctive state that the body goes into in the presence of a dangerous situation. This is all brought about by the sympathetic nervous system.

So how does the body respond when there is no fear whatsoever? This set of responses brought about by the parasympathetic nervous system works to put the body in a state of deep relaxation.

A full stomach leads to the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system which further leads to the slowing down of all body processes and brings about a sense of peace, relaxation, and sedation. This evolutionary mechanism is vital for the survival of mankind. The fullness of the stomach rather than the drinking of milk might be the leading reason for the sedative properties brought about.

Does warm milk help you sleep?

What Type of Milk helps in sleepWhat Type of Milk helps in sleep‘The fattier the better’, is one statement you probably haven’t heard in forever. Because for almost anything else in the world it’s far from true. Fatty is never better, in fact, it’s just about the farthest thing from good for most people and their health. It is the opposite when talking about the induction of sleep.

Researchers have proven beyond doubt that subjects that drank full-cream milk had greater levels of sleep-inducing hormones in their system than a subject that drank any other milk with a lower fat content. So if you suffer from insomnia or any other sleep disorder and are considering trying this method to see if it works for you, it’s better to go for the full-fat option. So while following this regimen you are definitely not going to lose any weight, but at least the milk will work to correct your circadian rhythm.

What Works, The Science or Psychology?

We have been talking about the science of the myth and how discontinuous it is. Some sources verify its credibility while others have evidence to discredit the claims. Whether these technique works is more of an individual question rather than a collective one. Psychological links have been found that lead to the inference that the induction of sleep after drinking warm milk may be more of a psychological response than anything else.

It has been hypothesized that falling asleep after a glass of warm milk is nothing but a reflex that has been ingrained since the early years when the child is tucked into bed to sleep after being given a bottle of warm milk. It is the association that the mind creates with safety that lulls you into a sense of security and love.  This response is nothing more than the re-emergence of the same reflex that works to reduce stress and decrease anxiety. This helps you fall into a nice and deep state of sedation.


Warm milk had been debunked as a way to help you sleep and then non-debunked multiple times over the last 50 years. With evidence present that supports both claims, it is more of a personal choice than cold and hard facts that support one opinion of the other. This remedy has been known to work for millions of people all over the world. On the other hand, there are others that remained completely unaffected by this remedy and it didn’t help them at all.