Does Drinking Warm Milk Really Make You Sleepy?

One of the oldest home remedies we know for falling asleep quickly is drinking a glass of warm milk. But does it actually work, or is it an old wives’ tale? A few months ago I decided to test this myself.

I have tried drinking warm milk before bed off and on throughout my life, but I never stuck to it as an actual routine. So a few months ago, I decided to try it diligently every night within one hour of going to bed. What I discovered was surprising, especially the side effect I didn’t anticipate.

But first, we need to discuss why warm milk is supposed to make us sleepy. Milk contains the sleep-inducing compounds melatonin and tryptophan. Melatonin tablets are commonly taken by people who have trouble falling asleep, and is a natural sleep-inducer. And we’ve all heard of tryptophan being stated as the reason we feel sleepy after eating our Thanksgiving turkey (though this has been disputed…regardless, tryptophan is still a sleep-inducer).

There are a few things we need to consider though:

  1. Melatonin and tryptophan are present in milk regardless, meaning it doesn’t matter whether you drink your milk warm or cold.
  2. Melatonin and tryptophan are present in such small amounts that it likely has no affect on your sleep.

(Read the source article here)

If milk naturally doesn’t quite help us get to sleep, then why have we always heard that warm milk will help you sleep? It’s probably the simple fact that drinking something warm feels soothing, and that can help us relax, which in turn can help us sleep. After all, we usually need to feel relaxed in order to fall asleep and stay asleep.

When I decided to try this diligently, I followed a very simple plan and truthfully did almost no research ahead of time. I wanted to keep everything as simple as possible, meaning I didn’t research how much milk to drink, or what temperature the milk needed to be.

All I did was add milk to a regular-sized coffee mug and fill it three-quarters (3/4) of the way full. I put that in the microwave for 20 seconds at 60% power. This would usually bring the milk to just above a lukewarm temperature. I would then add a little bit of honey to my warm milk, but this is completely optional, and again something that I just decided to do (I didn’t read any research that suggested I do this…though there is some out there).

In case you’re wondering, I was using skim milk (that’s what I had in my house), but you can use any fat-level milk you want.

What I immediately began noticing is that within about 15-30 minutes of getting into bed, I would feel absolutely exhausted. It’s hard to explain how exhausted I would feel, but it was like I had done vigorous exercise all day non-stop and had to collapse. This feeling of exhaustion actually made me happy because I usually never feel exhausted when I’m trying to fall asleep.

And the good news is that I did fall asleep quickly! And even better yet, I don’t remember ever waking up during the night! (I usually wake up at least four times during the night, so this was incredible.)

Warm milk solved my two biggest problems: it helped me fall asleep quickly and stay asleep. How wonderful that the simplest of home remedies for better sleep actually worked…

…I was wrong…

Even though I was falling asleep quickly and sleeping straight through the night, the quality of my sleep decreased, which admittedly seems unusual.

The problem was that I would wake up every morning feeling worse and more exhausted than the night before. I would wake up completely exhausted: I couldn’t move, my eyes were heavy, my breathing was shallow…it felt like something very heavy had been sitting on my chest all night. Compared to how tired I usually feel when I wake up, this extreme exhaustion was far worse than normal because it lingered around for several hours and made my day more difficult.

Since I already established that I wasn’t experimenting with warm milk in a very scientific manner, it shouldn’t be a surprise that I can’t explain why I would feel even more exhausted. My best non-scientific guesses are that I never reached REM sleep, or was somehow waking up in the middle of REM sleep.

Regardless of the actual reason for waking up feeling more exhausted than usual, I decided after two weeks that I had to stop. Waking up this exhausted and feeling this bad wasn’t worth it for me, and I wasn’t willing to trade-off feeling terrible for falling asleep quickly and staying asleep.

The big question: did drinking warm milk work?

Yes…sort of…

On the one hand, drinking warm milk did make me fall asleep quickly and stay asleep. This was a welcome improvement to how poorly I usually sleep. And this result was consistent every single night I did this for two weeks.

But on the other hand, I woke up feeling terrible and even worse than usual, and this too was a consistent result for the entire two weeks.

I personally am a little hesitant to try drinking warm milk again. I would not want to wake up feeling miserable again, but maybe with some actual research I can find a potential solution to mitigate or avoid this problem.

Are you going to try drinking warm milk before bed? Have you already tried it? Let me know in the comments below!

If you’d like to see a video I did talking about this subject, check it out here!

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