Does Drinking Warm Milk Really Help You Fall Asleep?

updated May 30, 2019
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(Image credit: Stephanie Russo)

When you’re tossing and turning in your bed, the idea that there’s an easy, natural solution to help you fall asleep faster sounds very appealing. Could that quick fix be a glass of warm milk?

Some of you may have tried this if a parent served you a mug of warm milk when you were a child to help you fall asleep; others may have only seen it referenced in books and pop culture.

For some of us, the idea of drinking warm milk may sound gross. But with one in three American adults not getting the recommended amount of sleep (at least seven hours), according to the CDC, it might be time to experiment with a solution you haven’t tried before.

So, Does the Warm Milk Trick Really Work?

Drinking milk to promote sleep is a global practice that’s likely been done for centuries. The sleep-promoting benefits of milk are mostly due to the psychological associations around it — those comforted, cared-for feelings you had if someone special like your mother gave you a glass of milk at bedtime.

“The common thought was that there is L-Tryptophan in milk, which has been shown to make people sleepy,” says “The Sleep Doctor” Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, and author of The Power of When.

L-tryptophan is the same amino acid you’ll find in turkey — why we think we’re sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner — and it’s used by the body to make the hormone serotonin. That serotonin is then used to make the sleep hormone, melatonin. So in theory, eating foods rich in tryptophan or drinking milk which contains it should help kick-start your body’s sleep process.

“However, the dose required [to kick-start that sleep process] would mean you would need to drink nearly a gallon of warm milk,” says Dr. Breus. He doesn’t recommend that. “My guess is that the good feelings that came from the person who gave you the milk (mom, dad, grandma, etc.) comforted a person so they relax, which allows the natural sleep process to occur.”

Are There Any Other Sleep-Inducing Bedtime Snacks?

The best pre-bedtime snacks that can help you fall asleep involve foods that contain tryptophan and carbohydrates, which make the tryptophan more available to the brain.

Fix yourself a snack of cereal and milk, cheese and crackers, peanut butter on toast, or a fruit smoothie with magnesium-rich bananas and kiwi fruits that help raise the body’s serotonin levels.

Do you drink warm milk when you need help falling asleep? Let us know in the comments!