It’s way past your bedtime. Has sleep come to you yet? Maybe counting sheep is ineffective. And popping a sleeping pill is not an option.
Now you recall those times your parents sent your younger self to bed with a warm glass of milk. Or you probably saw or read about this practice. Should you try it now?
For some, drinking warm milk is a natural way to counter the difficulty of falling asleep. For others, it seems to help them sleep better. Is this placebo? Science may have something to say about this widespread habit. Please continue reading to learn more about L-Tryptophan and how it works.
At the end of this article, we hope you can tell if warm milk is for you or not. In case you’re lactose intolerant, there are alternatives for you to try. But don’t pass up the chance to know if there’s merit to it or not.
Table of Contents
Does Warm Milk Help You Sleep?
Let’s cut to the chase. Is drinking warm milk to fall asleep fast a myth or not? We know that, for centuries, it’s been the go-to home remedy for parents to get their children to doze off. As in many cases, scientific inquiries came after the establishment of the practice. Let’s get to those studies without further ado.
What Does Science Say?
Meet the amino acid L-Tryptophan. It belongs to the group called essential amino acids, which your body cannot produce. They’re only present in food. And the good news is, you can find L-Tryptophan in milk.
But how does this amino acid affect sleep onset? It turns out there is no direct link. Instead, when you ingest this amino acid, your body converts it to several hormones. You only need to know two: serotonin and melatonin.
Serotonin is your body’s “feel-good hormone,” which helps regulate appetite, emotions, and cognitive functions. It’s also a precursor to melatonin, the so-called Dracula of hormones. Melatonin is a sleep-inducing hormone released by your pineal gland when darkness starts.
Read: Should You Use Melatonin for Sleep?
As you can see, there is a process through which the milk you just ingested goes to help you catch some zzzs. It may or may not work. There’s probably a low level of L-Tryptophan in your daily dose to cause a significant impact. But this content can definitely boost sleep onset in people whose L-Tryptophan deficiency causes sleep problems.
However, this does not conclusively say no to the question, “Does warm milk help you sleep?”
Routine and Warm Memories Ease the Mind
It’s not chemistry that provides the answer to why the habit works. Psychology does.
The brain finds comfort in routines and patterns. So if drinking warm milk has been a part of your pre-bedtime ritual since a certain point, doing so signals your brain that it’s almost time to nod off.
Also, people who were given warm milk before bedtime by parents or caregivers can associate the act with those warm memories. This consequently promotes the onset of sleep.
Benefits of Warm Milk
Aside from this dairy drink’s positive association to bedtime, you should take advantage of it for its other health benefits:
- Bone health – The calcium content in milk has long been lauded for its contribution to strengthening the bones in both the young and old. Thirty percent of your recommended daily allowance of calcium can come from a cup of nonfat milk, served warm or cold.
- Energy boost – This may not be for your bedtime, but whole milk with saturated fat is a good source of energy.
- Metabolism aid – Milk can also provide you with Vitamin B-12, as well as Vitamin B-complex, which contributes to cell metabolism.
What Type of Milk to Drink
The shortest answer is that warm whole milk should be high on your list. It has more fat content, which helps release L-Tryptophan. For cow’s milk, your other options are low-fat or skim milk. There are also alternative milk sources for those who have lactose intolerance or milk allergies.
Don’t be intimidated by the numbers. The main difference is the fat content, which affects calorie figures.
- Whole milk – It contains 8 grams of fat and 8 grams of protein, producing 150 calories.
- 2% milk – This dairy beverage has 5 grams of fat (1% milk has half of this) and 8 grams of protein, amounting to 120 calories.
- Skim milk – With 0 grams of fat and 8 grams of protein, skim milk is preferred among dairy products by weight loss enthusiasts.
- Almond milk – An alternative milk source, almonds do not have saturated fat, lactose, and cholesterol.
- Soy milk – Another plant-based dairy substitute, soy milk has about 4 grams of fat and 7 grams of protein, totaling to 80 calories.
- Coconut milk – This type of milk is rich and creamy, filled with around 20% fat. This should not be mistaken for the coconut cream/milk used for dishes.
- Oat milk – Extracted from whole oats, oat milk is creamy and has a noticeable oatmeal taste. It contains 5 grams of fat and 3 grams of protein, giving you 120 calories per cup.
- Cashew milk – This non-dairy drink is made from whole cashews and water. It can supply you with as high as 14 grams of fat and 5 grams of fat, producing 160 calories.
- Rice milk – Made from brown rice, rice milk doesn’t usually come sweetened. Its natural sweetness comes from the process by which its varieties are produced. Rice milk has high carbohydrate content.
- Hemp milk – This is made of hemp seeds ground in water. With 3 grams of fat and 2 grams of protein, hemp milk yields 46 calories.
- Melatonin-rich milk – This could be any dairy or non-dairy milk. Night milking of cows is said to produce more melatonin in their milk. Among the plant-based sources, almonds reportedly have high melatonin content.
How to Spice Up Warm Milk
The traditional combination of milk and honey remains a reliable home remedy. If you have a kid or remember your caregivers doing this, you might be preparing this concoction every night. But you can spice up the usual with the following recipe ideas:
- Spiced warm milk and honey drink – Add vanilla, cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom to your typical whole milk and honey combo. Whip it with cream and sprinkle with ground cinnamon to complete (optional, of course).
- Warm pumpkin spiced milk – This boasts 260 calories, so you might want to drink it not too close to bedtime. The highlight is the pumpkin puree (you can buy a canned version), some pumpkin pie spice, and pure vanilla extract mixed with your whole milk.
- Chai tea latte – Got a chai tea bag? Steep it in hot water while heating up your whole milk. Mix the two. Add some honey or sugar and sprinkle with cinnamon or nutmeg.
- Bedtime golden milk – To make your milk golden, throw in the following spices: turmeric, ground ginger, ground cinnamon, ground cardamom, and ground black pepper.
- Warm carob milk – You can use almond milk here, plus carob powder, maple syrup, vanilla extract. Optional: ground ginger or cloves and ground cinnamon.
Alternatives to Drinking Warm Milk
Would you consider these as worthy pre-bedtime substitutes to warm milk?
- Bananas – Banana is always a good idea. Incorporate this into your diet to increase your supply of L-tryptophan. But don’t eat it too close to bedtime.
- Cherries – These berries are a natural source of melatonin. So if you don’t want to take melatonin supplements, get your dose from fresh cherries, cherry juice, or dried cherries instead.
- Oatmeal – Oat is a versatile plant. And when it comes to inducing sleep, you can try this melatonin-producing source either as food or drink.
- Peanut Butter Toast – Reach out for this pre-bedtime snack, which complements warm milk well. Benefit from the eventual crash that carbs induce after you ingest this toast.
Nevertheless, dairy or non-dairy, a warm cup can remind you of pleasant bedtime memories with a parent or caregiver. Some experts say this type of psychological association can encourage you to fall asleep fast. And if it has been a part of your pre-bedtime routine, drinking warm milk should remain a part of it. At the right time, it signals the brain that it’s sleepytime.
So, it turns out this habit has more pros than cons. There’s no harm in trying.
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