Health myths: Does warm milk help you sleep?

While it is often associated with helping babies and children reach the land of nod, Benenden examines whether drinking the white stuff at bedtime really makes a difference

Benenden

It might be a comforting thought that a warm, milky drink before bed promotes drowsiness, but in reality it is no more than that.

Milk does contain tryptophan, an essential amino acid that is converted in the brain into serotonin, a hormone that leads to relaxation and can aid sleep.

‘However, there are lots of foods with higher tryptophan levels than milk, such as nuts and lentils, which are not associated with sleep,’ says Dr Ian Smith, consultant sleep physician and deputy medical director at Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in Cambridge, home of Britain’s largest sleep centre.

Certainly better than tea, coffee or alcohol at bedtime – all of which can disrupt sleep – milk can have a positive role in promoting sleep if it becomes part of a person’s reassuring bedtime routine. ‘This could include putting aside the worries of the day, having a relaxing bath, and avoiding stimulating activities such as bright light exposure, exercise or watching a tense thriller on the TV,’ says Dr Smith.

‘So the answer is that hot milk does not have a magical hypnotic property, but may be a useful component of an overall package to improve sleep quality.’

For more health stories from Benenden, visit www.benenden.co.uk/healthier-you.


  • Callipygian

    Milk is a disgusting beverage. I thought so when it was forced on me at school, aged 5. Poured mine down the drain. My belief is that milk should be perceived but not tasted — in tea or in desserts. Anyone that drinks milk at night in preference to anything else is a … milquetoast.

  • eric_js

    These suppositions are utterly worthless. The only thing that would “answer” this, would be an empirical study that compared the ability to get to sleep of group of people drinking warm milk before bed with a control group. Speculations about tryptophan being related to this possible effect are nothing more than that, and do not prove anything.