Sleep-inducing ingredients and soothing childhood memories helps milk calm body and soul
Got milk? We should, especially if we’re hoping to boost our chances of enjoying a blissful night’s sleep. It turns out that Mom’s advice – drink a glass of warm milk before bedtime – is no myth. What’s more, there are legitimate scientific reasons behind this common bedtime ritual.
Why a glass of milk before bed helps you sleep better
“Milk can potentially help a person sleep because it contains the amino acid tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin,” says Becky Kerkenbush, a registered dietitian and media representative for the Wisconsin Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “We can thank serotonin for milk’s snooze-inducing properties. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in appetite, sleep, behavior, mood, body temperature and coordination.”
She also points out that milk is a rich source of calcium, which helps muscles relax. And when milk is warmed, it has a soothing effect. As a bonus, it may also evoke comforting memories from childhood.
And one interesting research tidbit for milk lovers: Cows milked at night produced milk with higher levels of tryptophan and melatonin. This “night milk” was used for a study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food. In the study, milk calmed mice and helped them fall asleep faster. Alas, it’s not something you’ll find in the fridge at your local grocery store any time soon.
If you’re looking for some light snacks to pair with your milk, Kerkenbush also recommends:
- Yogurt: A rich source of calcium. A deficiency of this nutrient may make it difficult to fall asleep.
- Bananas: A good source of vitamin B6, which is needed to produce melatonin (sleep hormone). They’re also rich in magnesium and potassium, two natural muscle-relaxants, plus tryptophan.
- Walnuts: Contains tryptophan, which converts to melatonin in your body.
Good carbs = good sleep
Bethany Studnicky, staff writer with mattressadvisor.com, is also a fan of warm milk. She calls carbs and protein “the BFFs of a good night’s sleep.” One cup of 1% milk has 12 grams of carbs and 8 grams of protein, which makes it a sleep superstar. Add to the mix amino acids (milk has 12) and milk’s status as a sleep inducer is elevated even further.
Studnicky explains that when tryptophan (an amino acid) enters the bloodstream, your body turns it into a B vitamin called Niacin. Niacin is used in the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that aids in melatonin regulation, your sleep hormone. The bottom line: Tryptophan before bedtime means better sleep.
Be warned though: tryptophan can be stonewalled from entering the bloodstream if it’s not accompanied by complex carbohydrates. That’s why a combination of carbs, protein and melatonin-rich ingredients are bedtime snack winners. With that in mind, we’re sharing Studnicky’s recipe for chewy, delicious, sleep-helping White Night Cookies.
White Night Cookies
- 1/4 cup coconut oil melted
- 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
- 1/2 cup pitted dates (soft)
- 1 egg
- 1-2 tbsp honey
- 3/4 cups spelt flour
- 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
- 1/2 cup flax seed
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground ginger
- 1/8 tsp cardamom
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
- 1/3 cup dried cherries
- 1/4 cup white chocolate chunks
- Preheat the oven or toaster oven to 350 degrees F.
- Combine all wet ingredients, including dates, in the blender and blend until smooth.
- Combine all dry ingredients including walnuts, flax seed, and cherries in a large mixing bowl.
- Combine wet and dry ingredients to form dough.
- Fold in white chocolate chunks.
- Scoop about 2 tbs of dough and place on parchment-lined cookie sheets. Press down dough with your fingers to about ½ inch thick rounds.
- Place in oven and bake for 20 minutes.
- Remove from oven and let cool on cooling rack.
More than milk–the power of bedtime rituals
Some researchers also point to the psychological effects of a consistent bedtime routine. Whether it’s brushing your teeth, turning off the lights in the house, putting on your pyjamas or sipping warm milk, those behaviors send signals to your brain–“It’s bedtime!” And those triggers begin the wind down process when both body and brain can relax and reach a state of calm, setting the stage for a good night of sleep.
As Bill Fish, certified sleep coach and co-founder of Tuck.com, says: “Routines are important. Drinking a glass of milk each night may be that routine your body craves to begin your sleep ritual each evening.”
The key to bedtime routines is sticking to them. That means doing them daily and setting a regular time for starting the process each evening.
For vegans and the lactose intolerant
If you’re hoping to hop on the warm milk bandwagon but can’t because you’re lactose intolerant (an estimated 65% of adult Americans) or follow a vegan diet, take heart. You don’t have to miss out. Many milk alternatives can be sources of protein, too, but the amount varies widely. Here’s how much protein you can find in a serving of one cup of milk:
- Almond milk – 1 gram
- Soy milk – 6 grams
- Rice milk – 1 gram
- Hemp milk – 3 grams
- Oat milk – 4 grams
Want to skip milk altogether? Try other sleep friendly sips like tart cherry juice (rich in melatonin) or a magnesium-enriched drink, like Swanson’s Mellow Mag – Raspberry Lemonade (with 330 mg of magnesium, which helps relax muscles, per serving).