Last Updated on February 10, 2024 by Louise Carter
Milk contains the amino acid l-tryptophan, which converts to serotonin in the brain and encourages melatonin production. Serotonin promotes calm and relaxation in the mind and body, while melatonin encourages the brain to sleep when exposed to darkness.
Many people drink warm milk at night to aid sleep. Part of this is psychological, as warm milk is more comforting than cold. Heating milk also helps the body break down lactose, making it less likely that a glass of milk requires lengthy digestion.
Full-fat milk contains more l-tryptophan than skimmed alternatives or lactose-free almond milk, but it can also lead to weight gain as we burn fewer calories while sleeping. Consider which kind of milk will serve your needs best before introducing this drink to your evening routine.
If you choose low-fat milk containing less l-tryptophan, add honey, cinnamon, turmeric, or banana to encourage sleep or enhance flavor. Cherry juice or herbal teas are good alternatives to warm milk.
Don’t exceed one 8 oz glass of warm milk per night. Any more than this risks impacting your digestive system, but less may not be as effective in helping you fall asleep.
Why Does Warm Milk Help You Sleep?
Warm milk improves sleep onset latency and helps people remain asleep for 8 hours. The main reason milk helps promote sleep is the amino acid l-tryptophan in dairy products.
The body doesn’t organically produce l-tryptophan, but when consumed through food and drink, it’s absorbed by the bloodstream via the digestive system.
Blood carries l-tryptophan to the brain, where it converts to serotonin.
The Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience stated that l-tryptophan reduces the time it takes to fall asleep due to this conversion. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that inspires feelings of calm, satisfaction, and relaxation, all essential to falling asleep.
Drinking milk before bed relieves anxiety and helps you sleep. For example, if you’re worried about work the next day, serotonin will ease these concerns that may otherwise keep you awake.
In addition to serotonin, l-tryptophan increases melatonin levels – the “sleep hormone” – in the brain. The Journal of Gerontology explains that melatonin helps regulate circadian rhythms and maintain a reliable sleep-wake cycle.
Melatonin reacts to darkness. When we enter a dark room, the pineal gland, the part of the brain that responds to light and darkness, releases melatonin.
Dim lighting releases more melatonin, encouraging the brain to wind down and prepare for sleep.
While the pineal gland secretes melatonin organically, bringing more of this hormone into your body through milk increases the speed at which you feel sleepy.
How Long Does it Take for Warm Milk to Make You Sleep?
Warm milk contains components that make you sleepy, but it’s not a recognized sedative and doesn’t have the qualities directly associated with prescription drugs.
This means it won’t immediately make you fall asleep, especially if you’re not ready for bed.
If you practice sleep hygiene, bringing a glass of warm milk into your bedtime routine should encourage a rapid descent into sleepiness. However, warm milk won’t counter the effects of stimulants if you’ve consumed coffee or an energy drink in the last 6 hours.
Add these steps to your bedtime ritual to enjoy the benefits of warm milk and fall asleep:
- Avoid screens for around an hour before bed, especially blue light appliances like cell phones.
- Lower your body temperature by taking a bath or shower.
- Progressively dim the lights around your home, promoting the release of melatonin in the brain.
- Empty your mind of stress and anxiety through mindful exercises or journaling your concerns.
Exercising during the day will also make warm milk more effective in helping you sleep. This drink should be considered an additional component of your bedtime preparation.
Warm Milk vs. Cold Milk for Sleep
Most references to milk helping us sleep refer to heated milk rather than a cold drink from the fridge. While cold milk still contains l-tryptophan, warm milk will lull you into relaxation and sleep faster.
Part of the appeal of warm milk over a cold glass is psychological.
As the idea of warm milk aiding sleep is ingrained in Western culture, we’re likelier to believe in the impact of a heated beverage over a chilled alternative.
Heating milk also breaks down lactose, making it easier to digest. Although it won’t make it digestible for lactose intolerant people, it’ll ease the process and leave your stomach feeling less full.
Cold beverages straight from the fridge can also produce adrenaline spikes in the body, making the brain more alert. This is the opposite of what anybody aims for when preparing to sleep.
Cold milk is considered a more effective remedy for acid reflux than warm milk, so if heartburn keeps you awake at night, consider a glass of chilled milk.
What Kind of Warm Milk is Best for Sleep?
Many people avoid keeping full-fat cow’s milk at home, but this beverage is more effective in aiding sleep. A single quart of full-fat milk contains over 550mg of l-tryptophan.
If you’re lactose intolerant, don’t force yourself to consume cow’s milk. The Journal of Food Composition and Analysis stated that almond milk also contains l-tryptophan and can promote healthy sleep.
Is it Good to Drink Milk Before Bed?
While the advantages of consuming warm milk before bed to aid rest have been covered, some warnings should also be noted. Some of the disadvantages of drinking milk before sleep may include:
- Milk contains lactose unless you’re consuming a specialist product or non-dairy alternative. This can take time for the body to break down, leading to feelings of bloating, even if you’re not lactose intolerant. Thankfully, warming milk can expedite this process.
- Lactose is a sugar. If you’re prone to low glucose levels, you may be woken in the night by a blood sugar crash as your body panics and demands nourishment.
- Milk can sometimes interfere with the liver’s attempts to detoxify the body and remove toxins overnight. If you regularly consume milk at night, this can have long-term repercussions.
- While full-fat milk contains the most l-tryptophan, it can also cause weight gain. Be mindful of how much dairy you consume, as you’ll burn fewer calories while sleeping.
If you’re averse to milk before bed, consider cherry juice as an alternative.
They’re rich in l-tryptophan, with tart cherries higher in this amino acid than sweeter alternatives. Nutrients stated that Montmorency cherries are the best choice for sleep.
Herbal tea is another option, especially if you prefer a warm beverage at night. Chamomile, peppermint, valerian, and ashwagandha teas are natural sleep aids due to their relaxing qualities.
When Should I Drink Warm Milk for Sleep?
The right time to drink warm milk depends on the following factors:
- How much time will you spend in darkness or dim light before bed?
- What else do you need to achieve before bed?
- How likely are you to need to urinate after drinking?
The best time to drink warm milk is after you’ve begun winding down and are preparing to get into bed. Avoid consuming milk before showering or shutting down electronics, as these activities can counter the impact of your drink.
If you’re prone to nocturia – waking at night with a pressing need to use the bathroom – drink warm milk around an hour before bed. This gives your body time to process and expel the liquid before you sleep. Make warm milk the first part of your sleep hygiene ritual.
Always consume your milk in a dim or dark room, and remain in similar conditions for as long as it is safe. Artificial light will interfere with the impact of l-tryptophan and block the secretion of melatonin.
What Can I Add to Warm Milk to Help Me Sleep?
Warm milk alone will not appeal to everybody’s palate, or you may find that milk is ineffective in helping you sleep. Consider adding non-alcoholic ingredients to milk as part of your sleep routine.
Avoid whisky, rum, or other spirits because these will lead to a more disturbed night of sleep, not superior rest. Even if they help you doze off quickly, alcoholic drinks can lead to nocturia and dehydration.
Combine ashwagandha tea with cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, and warm milk to create “moon milk,” a popular Indian bedtime beverage. Followers of Ayurvedic medicine consider the daily consumption of moon milk essential to a good night’s sleep.
Add these ingredients to your warm milk for an even more peaceful night.
- Honey. Clinical Nutrition ESPEN claims that combining honey and milk before bed improves sleep, while the honey also adds a pleasing sweetness to the milk.
- Turmeric. This spice settles the stomach and reduces inflammation, promoting digestion and restful sleep. Turmeric mixed with warm milk is often called “golden milk,” especially with added ginger.
- Banana. Consider mixing a banana smoothie at night if you prefer a colder drink. Bananas are filled with potassium and magnesium, which relax the muscles and encourage relaxation, while these fruits also boast high levels of l-tryptophan.
Introducing warm milk into your routine at night can help ease you into a night of deep sleep.
While warm milk alone isn’t a miracle cure for insomnia – you must follow protocols, clear your mind, and avoid stimulants before bed – it can encourage the mind and body to welcome the arrival of sleep.