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Warm Milk, True or False?

By Michael Breus, PhD, ABSMJanuary 23, 2008
From the WebMD Archives

I just love it when some old piece of advice proves totally absurd, false, or, in the case of drinking a glass of warm milk before bed as a sleep inducer, TRUE!

Last month New York Times writer Anahad O’Connor settled the claim about milk as a sleeping aid in an article that put to bed some old assertions about milk … with a twist.

YES, warm milk can help you get to sleep. But it’s not because it contains tryptophan, which urban legend has it will lull you to sleep (and which is often the talk at Thanksgiving when people drop like flies after a large meal heavy in tryptophan-rich turkey).

In fact, the jury is still out on exactly whether or not milk can encourage sleep. Studies of tryptophan’s impact on sleep have found only one phase of sleep – the first one when you’re falling asleep – is enhanced by tryptophan. Other aspects of sleep, such as the amount of deep sleep reached during the night, can be harmed by tryptophan, especially if it’s taken in supplemental form. I remind people that sleep-friendly foods, such as turkey, would require you to eat about 40 pounds of turkey to get enough of that enzyme to make you sleepy!

As the article further points out, tryptophan has to cross the blood-brain barrier in order to have any effect on sleep. And that can be difficult in the presence of other amino acids, which explains why researchers find that eating protein-rich foods, including milk, can decrease the ability of tryptophan to enter the brain. The trick is to eat foods high in carbohydrates because the insulin released will make it easier for tryptophan to nudge itself into the brain.And for this very reason I recommend combining an ample dose of carbohydrate together with a small amount of protein (which contains the amino acid tryptophan) as the ideal bedtime snack. This can also encourage your brain to produce serotonin, which is known as the “calming hormone.”

If you are not quite the “cook” in the kitchen, or simply do not have the time, I would encourage you to check out a great new product on the market called Dreamerz Foods. It’s an all-natural sleep beverage that has just the right amount of Melatonin (0.3 mg) and a substance called Lactium (this is the protein in milk that causes relaxation in infants but in a more concentrated dosage), and I have to admit it’s a great alternative to many of those “PM” medications.

But what, then, do we make of all the anecdotal evidence that says a glass of warm milk (with nothing else) can help you fall asleep? Well, my friends, here’s the real kicker: it may just be that the routine of drinking a glass of warm milk is like an old teddy bear that reminds you of home when your mom tucked you into bed at night. The psychological association with milk is stronger than what the milk’s content actually does (or doesn’t do!)

It’s all in your head … so to speak.

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