Does Warm Milk Help You Sleep?


Written by Rebecca Levi

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Many people believe drinking warm milk before bed can help them relax and fall asleep faster. Like melatonin supplements, amino acids, or herbs, warm milk is a widely available home remedy that may be routinely used to try to overcome insomnia and other sleep problems.

Although there is little scientific evidence for many home insomnia remedies, some studies suggest that having warm cow’s milk at bedtime might help you fall asleep faster, stay asleep, and get better quality rest overall.

Researchers have been interested in the sleep-inducing properties of milk since the 1970s. More recent studies have explored a variety of dairy products and how they affect sleep. Evidence shows that, while certain types of milk may help you sleep, other varieties may have little to no effect.

Why Is Warm Milk Good for Sleep?

Sleep experts cannot explain exactly why warm milk helps some people get a better night’s sleep, though several theories have been suggested. Some propose that the nutrients in milk can induce feelings of drowsiness. Others say that drinking warm milk may just be an important part of a bedtime routine, a habit that signals the body that it’s time for sleep.

Milk contains a large amount of tryptophan. Your body cannot make tryptophan by itself and must get it from food. Tryptophan is necessary for the body to produce melatonin and serotonin, two chemicals that play an important role in sleep.

Serotonin affects sleep and mood, while melatonin regulates the sleep-wake cycle. The sleep-wake cycle is part of circadian rhythm, the biological pattern that relies on external cues like light and temperature to tell the body when to feel sleepy and wakeful. For example, the brain reacts to darkness by producing more melatonin, which makes us feel tired.

According to some experts, tryptophan should be ingested at the same time as a carbohydrate, like sugar, in order for it to have a meaningful effect on a person’s sleep. In some of the earliest studies that demonstrated a relationship between milk and sleep, participants drank malted milk, a powdered milk product that includes barley malt, sugar, and other ingredients.

Some researchers have explored the impact of melatonin-enriched milk on sleep. This milk is naturally high in melatonin and tryptophan because it comes from cows milked at night instead of in the daytime. Night milk has been shown to improve symptoms of insomnia in some people.

Dairy products, especially fermented milk, are also high in a neurotransmitter called GABA. Stress and sleep disruptions prevent the body from producing GABA, which can make it even harder to fall asleep. In one study, people who consumed fermented milk products before bed got better sleep, potentially due to larger amounts of GABA.

Cold Milk Vs. Warm Milk

It is natural to incorporate a warm beverage into a bedtime routine. Having a hot or warm drink such as milk or decaffeinated tea might promote relaxation and help people feel comfortable and cozy. However, few studies have examined whether warm milk makes people sleepier than cold milk.

One early study explored the connection between warm malted milk and sleep, but did not test the effects of cold milk. This experiment found that participants who drank warm malted milk before bed slept better than those who did not. This was especially true for older individuals.

Will Drinking Milk Before Bed Affect Your Weight?

Contrary to popular belief, drinking milk before bed might help some people maintain a healthy weight.

In the past, eating or drinking too close to bedtime was thought to cause weight gain. However, recent studies show that having a small, nutritious snack or drink before bed may positively affect metabolism and weight. With 8 grams of protein in a one-cup serving, milk is an ideal choice.

Consuming protein before bed has been shown to help athletes build muscle while they sleep. One study found that athletes who followed up an evening exercise session with a protein drink built 22% more muscle than those who did not. There is also some evidence that a high-protein bedtime snack may improve metabolism in active people.

Other people may also benefit from drinking milk at bedtime. A study of women with obesity found that consuming protein before bed reduced participants’ appetites and helped them feel full in the morning. Another showed that older people who engaged in regular exercise and drank milk before bed enjoyed high quality sleep.

Some milk products, however, could have a negative impact on your sleep or your overall health. For example, avoid milk beverages that contain caffeine or alcohol before bed, as they can disrupt sleep.

Should You Try Drinking Milk Before Bed?

For many people, milk is a convenient nighttime snack, but some people should not drink milk before bed. For example, consuming dairy products can be life-threatening for those with milk allergies.

People who have lactose intolerance are not able to digest the sugars in milk. They can experience nausea, bloating, diarrhea, and gas when they drink milk. These symptoms are not only unpleasant, but they can prevent restful sleep.

Many people simply do not like the taste of milk or avoid dairy for other reasons. Fortunately, there are a variety of foods that may promote better rest.

Foods that Help Sleep

Eating foods that are high in tryptophan and other nutrients like calcium and melatonin might help you sleep. Nondairy, tryptophan-rich foods include:

  • Turkey
  • Sunflower, pumpkin, and sesame seeds
  • Chicken
  • Egg whites
  • Soybeans
  • Fish
  • Peanuts

In addition to milk, scientists have explored how other foods impact sleep. Although more research is needed, there is some evidence that certain foods might help people fall asleep faster or sleep better.

  • Kiwifruit: In one study, individuals who ate two kiwifruits before bed for four weeks fell asleep faster and slept better.
  • Tart cherries: Consuming tart cherry juice in the morning and at night has been shown to improve symptoms of insomnia. Tart cherries appear to boost melatonin levels in the body.
  • Fish: People who eat more fish and vegetables tend to enjoy higher quality sleep. Fatty fish is rich in vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, nutrients that play an important role in regulating serotonin.

About The Author

Rebecca Levi

Staff Writer, Sleep Health

With a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Indiana University Bloomington, Rebecca enjoys making accurate, up-to-date health information accessible to all readers. As a freelance writer and editor, she has covered everything from healthcare and experimental music to education. Rebecca lives in Tennessee, where she spends her free time reading, writing fiction, and making music.

  • POSITION: Side Sleeper
  • TEMPERATURE: Cold Sleeper
  • CHRONOTYPE: Dolphin

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