We’ve all heard the old remedy that drinking a glass of warm milk before bed will help induce restful sleep. Some of us may have even tried it. But if you’ve ever really struggled with insomnia, tossing and turning on your comfy Sleepy’s bed but still not falling asleep; you know that it isn’t really the miracle cure it’s cracked up to be.
The Tryptophan Fallacy
Some people have suggested that milk works as a sleep-inducer because it contains tryptophan, an amino acid that can cause sleepiness. The problem with this is that you’d need to drink a lot more than one cup to have it have any effect. Perhaps even gallons of milk and the protein in the milk actually keeps the tryptophan from crossing the blood-brain barrier. Tryptophan in turkey often gets blamed for the post-Thanksgiving exhaustion, but even that isn’t accurate. Scientists have determined that a person would have to eat 40 pounds of turkey for it to have any real effect on a person’s sleep.
Nature vs. Nurture
What the studies show, and what most doctors and scientists believe, is that the warm milk advice has less to do with the nature of how our bodies work and more to do with the nurturing we receive when we’re young.
Warm milk is relaxing to many people because of psychological associations they have with drinking it as a bedtime routine, not because of any chemical effect on the body. Some people have the same relaxing effect with a cup of warm cocoa or tea. Wrapping up in a favorite blanket, petting a dog, or snuggling a Teddy bear can also have the same relaxing effect. They are actions we commonly take before bedtime and it is the habitual action the causes the sleepiness.
Develop a Routine
If you’re looking for a way to improve your sleep perhaps it’s time to develop a bedtime routine. In fact, there’s nothing wrong with keeping some of your favorite routines from your childhood. Try these grown-up versions of your childhood routine:
- Warm milk steamers: Starbuck’s has made this warm milk drink popular, but they are easy to make at home. Fill a mug with milk, warm in the microwave for a minute or two and add a tablespoon of your favorite flavored syrup. You can change the flavor to match the season. The top of my list are Pumpkin Spice, Praline with Toasted Marshmallow, and Raspberry White Chocolate.
- A Bedtime Story: Try opening up an old-fashioned ink and paper book and reading for 30 minutes before going to sleep. Studies show that turning off electronic devices and reading a book can help aid in relaxation.
- White noise: It turns out babies aren’t the only ones who like soothing sounds in the background. Try turning on a relaxation radio Pandora station and letting the soft sounds lull you to sleep.
Give these suggestions a try, snuggle into your nice warm blankets, and hopefully enjoy a restful sleep.