Along with her apple pie recipe and magical ability to get grass stains off all your clothes, mom probably had one other trick up her sleeve when you were a kid – the humble glass of milk.
Whether you had it cold from the fridge or warm and frothy in your favorite mug, the glass of milk before bedtime was considered the best way to help you drift off to sleep peacefully.
But did you know that drinking milk before bed has drawbacks too? Before you reach for the milk carton, carefully weigh up the benefits against the drawbacks. Some of them might surprise you…
Benefits of Drinking Milk Before Bed
Let’s start with the positives! There’s a reason that drinking milk before bed to help you sleep is one of mom’s tried and tested sleep remedies.
A More Restful Night’s Sleep
Milk contains 2 important chemicals that are linked to falling asleep and having a good night’s rest. These are tryptophan and melatonin.
Tryptophan is an amino acid that helps your body to produce serotonin, which is the transmitter you’ve probably heard of before. It’s most often referred to as the happy chemical because it promotes feelings of happiness and wellbeing. But it’s also related to melatonin.
Melatonin is the one to know about. It’s the sleep hormone that prepares your body to enter the sleep cycle of your circadian rhythm. Supplements of these chemicals have been shown to help you sleep.
While a cup of milk won’t have significant levels of tryptophan and melatonin to change your sleep rhythms, it may be enough combined with the other benefits below to reduce any stress or anxiety and help you drift off.Related:
The Benefits of a Bedtime Routine
Sometimes, just the act of getting your pajamas, brushing your teeth, and drawing the curtains is enough to make you feel sleepy. So, if drinking hot milk was part of your childhood bedtime routine, it could have the same effect on you as an adult.
Almost like a placebo effect, the simple action of drinking milk before going to bed can make you sleepy. It’s that association between the milk and sleep that signals to your brain that it’s bedtime.
Other things you can include in your bedtime routine to trigger sleepy feelings include: an evening face wash routine, shutting off electronic devices an hour before bed, or a little light reading.
This benefit isn’t solely tied to milk, so you could use any nighttime drink that you prefer.
Warm Liquids Soothe Anxiety
Hot drinks are more often than not associated with relaxing and soothing stress. A hot cup of tea on your work break, an after-dinner hot chocolate, or a tasty pumpkin chai latte from Starbucks to keep yourself warm through Fall. The only exception here is your morning coffee that’s consumed to wake you up… but even with that hot drink, you’re still soothing away stress and grogginess at starting the day.
Hot drinks relax your muscles, like an internal massage, so it’s no wonder that a hot cup of milk before bed can do wonders for relaxing your body enough to sleep.
Furthermore, the optimum conditions for sleep are when you’re warm and cozy under the blankets, shielded from the cooler air of the room. A hot drink mimics this warm and cozy feeling further, helping you get in the mood for sleep.
No More Sleeping on an Empty Stomach
Ever feel happy and drowsy after a large meal? You could achieve the same effect with a filling cup of hot creamy milk before bed. This is also a great benefit of having a hot drink before bed if you are woken up with food cravings in the night or are trying to sleep on a diet that leaves you hungry in the evenings.
Drawbacks to Drinking Milk Before Bed
Although not deadly, the drawbacks of drinking milk before bed could be enough to ruin your sleep patterns. It all depends on your own body and tolerances.
Did you know that lactose intolerance can be developed at any age? Even if you loved a cup of warm milk as a child, you might find that your body can’t handle it now that you are older. Symptoms of lactose intolerance include:
- Excess gas (from either or both ends),
- Bloating around the abdomen,
- Stomach cramps,
- Diarrhea (sometimes immediately).
Any of these symptoms is enough to keep you awake at night!
Another intolerance you might have is to the glucose in your system from the milk – or if you’ve added a sweetener to your bedtime drink, like cocoa powder or milkshake powder – as lactose is a sugar.
Glucose intolerance, including diabetes, can lead to a sugar crash halfway through the night, waking your body up and hitting you with a big craving for something sweet.
A good way to avoid both symptoms is to pick lactose-free nighttime drinks. We have 3 great options below.
Calories Disrupt Circadian Rhythm
Your circadian rhythm – your biological body clock that tells you when to stay awake and when to sleep – is usually tuned into light sources. It keeps you awake during daylight and asleep when it’s dark.
On a related note, this is why having bright white screens in your face before you sleep (e.g. scrolling through Facebook on your phone or watching TV from bed) can disrupt your rhythm and make it harder to sleep.
Some scientific reviews have also found that our meal schedules can impact our circadian rhythm too. Usually, we consume our last meal several hours before going to bed, so adding a high-calorie drink right before you try to sleep could push your rhythm out of whack.
To avoid this, stay away from adding sweeteners to your milk, consuming too much milk, or drinking it immediately before your head hits the pillow. Why not have your cup of milk and read for a half-hour instead?
Finally, this last drawback applies to all bedtime drinks. Having a large glass of liquid right before you sleep is more than likely going to lead to a full bladder the next morning… or sometime during the night. If you know that your bladder is small, or that you can never fall back to sleep once you wake up in the night, avoiding late-night drinks altogether could be a good idea!
In which case, try these tips and exercises to sleep better at night.
3 Other Great Bedtime Drinks
If those drawbacks have put you off your nighttime cup of milk, check out these 3 alternatives.
Non-Dairy Milk Drinks
If lactose is one of the problems for you, then selecting non-dairy milk to drink before bed is a good idea. Lactose-free milk often tends to be lighter, especially soya milk and oat milk, and not quite as creamy.
A hot cup of oat milk could settle you down for sleep without making you feel too full, setting off your lactose intolerance, or adding too many extra calories to your daily intake compared to rich dairy milk.
Avoid anything with caffeine in, obviously! An herbal tea (also known as a tisane) doesn’t contain tea leaves from the traditional tea plant. Instead, herbs, flowers, roots, spices, and more are infused with water. Any hot herbal tea might be able to calm you, but if you want an extra “sleep aid” then go for these infusions:Read More: Valerian Root, Melatonin and Magnesium: What’s The Best One
Not to be confused with coconut milk or cream, coconut water is from the center of the coconut and is full of magnesium, potassium, and B vitamins which together reduce stress and relax your muscles. Links between coconut water and sleep have yet to be explored by the scientific community, but if milk and tea are out of the question, you might as well give it a go.
So, Is Milk Before Bed a Good Idea?
Milk before bed isn’t necessarily a bad idea… if you know your body well! For those with lactose intolerances or small bladders, trying a different nighttime drink or an altogether different routine might be best. Here’s a quick recap of the main points you should take away.
- Milk contains small amounts of melatonin, which promotes sleep.
- Creating a bedtime routine including milk can trigger sleepy feelings.
- Warm liquids soothe your body from the inside out.
- A full stomach helps some people fall asleep faster.
- Lactose and glucose intolerances (including diabetes) can wake you up in the night with mild yet annoying symptoms.
- Consuming calories directly before bed could disrupt your circadian rhythm.
- Sleeping on a full bladder isn’t ideal.
Milk can be an excellent nighttime drink, but don’t fret if not. Our 3 milk alternatives are easily available and could do the trick. Sleep well!