Culture Health

    Health myths: Does warm milk help you sleep?

    12 August 2016

    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.’

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