What Is It About Warm or Hot Milk?

Updated on January 28, 2012
C.O. asks from Reston, VA
8 answers

Seriously. Not a trick question. What is it about warm to hot milk that helps a person relax or go to sleep?

I've been having trouble sleeping lately - toss and turn (yeah, we need a new mattress) but I will sleep for about 2 hours and then wake up and toss and turn and then go back to sleep!! You wonder why I'm so punchy!! :)

SO I was talking to my mom about it and she said - fix yourself a cup of warm milk or hot chocolate with milk and drink it in bed...low and behold! My mom was right!! I slept for almost 5 hours straight!!! I've been doing this now for 4 days. whew....

What is it about warm milk? Is it psychosomatic or is it something else?
What tricks do you have to help you sleep better or longer?

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answers from Rochester on

I think it's just the milk, really...the warmth of it is probably more psychosomatic. :) I'm glad you're getting some sleep!!

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answers from Richmond on

I don't know, but I'm glad you found something that works for you!

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answers from Lexington on

I know it is the protein tryptophan in it that is supposed to help us fall asleep. It is supposed to be combined with a carbohydrate to help nudge it across the blood-brain barrier. So eating a carbohydrate and a little protein may do the same thing for you (like a small turkey meat sandwich), but I used to do that with WARM MILK with HONEY in the middle of the night when I had my rare insomnia.

The tryptophan turns into serotonin which is a calming, happy hormone (neurotransmitter). Melatonin does, too.

And then of course, there is always the possibility that just drinking that warm milk gives us a feeling of comfort - a throwback to infancy.

I don't really care why. I know it used to help.

But turns out I can no longer drink dairy.

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answers from Redding on

I don't know, but I personally can't drink warm milk without a bunch of chocolate in it. Bleccccccccch.

If it works for you, it doesn't matter why. Just keep doing it!!

I don't have any tricks. I often have bouts of insomnia and it's usually because I can't turn my mind off.
A nice, long hot shower just before bed helps me sometimes.

Best wishes!

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answers from Savannah on

I did some research on that a year ago because my husband, when he couldn't sleep, would get up and cook some milk on the stove. I'd be like "WHAT are you doing?" but it did work for him---he would toss and turn and lay there all tense, which kept me awake, but after having a soothing cup of milk he'd go to sleep and not move. It's pretty rare for him to do that, but I've noticed it helps him when he does it.
The Mayo Clinic, while saying that nothing "helps" sleep but that some things hinder sleep, gave me a couple clues. It says not to go to bed hungry OR on a belly full of heavy fatty food. So if you were just a little peckish and didn't realize it, a glass of milk would help (filling but not heavy). It also says that food flavored in garlic or highly spiced foods could hinder sleep. Milk (and calcium, in milk) helps neutralize acids (not just stomach acids or acids found in tomatoes or peppers, but in chemical plants calcium was listed as an emergency treatment for contact with acid, while waiting for emergency personnel to arrive). That is why if your kids eat too much salsa and their mouth burns, you don't give them water or soda, but MILK or bread. So if milk is helping you, you may be feeling a little peptic--not enough to notice it, but enough to keep you awake. Milk could settle that down.
Warm drinks do help you warm your body without it being too drastic (a hot shower isn't good for you to rest, but people do generally sleep better when they're warmer: it's a feeling of well being, and relaxes muscles. We've noticed that if our house is a little colder than normal (like early fall when we aren't in the habit of having the heat on, and the temperature drops late in the night) then we ALL have dreams. Not really nightmares so much as disturbed sleep and not really pleasant dreams. It's the first thing I look at on my way to my youngest son's room if I hear him in the night or if I wake up agitated. I tried the warm drinks theory with packaged apple cider and it worked too for relaxing me, but I didn't finish my cup. It probably has too much sugar in it to suggest for going to sleep though.
And of course, yes, there's the psychological part: they say you either had it as a child, or it reminds you of your mom, and the association of "warm fuzzy feelings" and comforting feelings actually produces a chemical in your brain, serotonin which IS associated with sleep.
So just because the easy answer is "there's no magic chemical IN milk that makes you drowsy" doesn't really mean anything. There's reasons for it to help some people if you look deeper than the initial first response, and if it works for you, great! A lot more healthy than my mom taking a Tylenol PM or a Benadryl every night!

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answers from St. Louis on

The warmth raises your body temperature making you slow down and become sleepy. Think about days when you are stuck in a hot room, you usually feel tired right?

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answers from Pittsburgh on

The tryptophan thing is a myth. You'd have to eat about 40 lbs of turkey to consume enough tryptophan to have a sleep-inducing effect, and even then, tryptophan only affects the first cycle of sleep--the getting sleepy part, so it won't "keep" you asleep. Too much tryptophan can actually even harm restful sleep.

It MIGHT lower your body temp (if you drink it warm) enough to trigger the slowdown response we have on warm days.

Mostly, though, it's a myth. It's psychological.
*You want & believe it will work, so it does.
AND a snack before bed can stop hunger from waking you

....so it's probably a combination of those two things.

Here's O. article:

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answers from Philadelphia on

My kids love this when they can't sleep. I even add a bit of honey. I don't know what it is. With me, I find that sugar (my favorite food) interupts my sleep. I am going to try it tonight...Thanks for the reminder:)

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