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There are countless insomnia remedies and sleep tips out there. But do any of them really work? Warm milk has an age-old reputation for curing insomnia. Many people who drink a glass of warm milk every night claim that it helps them get to sleep. A common reason given is that milk contains the amino acid tryptophan that is well known for its sedative effect. Exponents of warm milk before bedtime, claim that tryptophan in milk helps us get to sleep. So does drinking hot milk help you sleep?
A common assertion is that drinking milk results in drowsiness, due to levels of tryptophan contained in milk. However, the amount of tryptophan in milk is insufficient to have any significant effect on drowsiness.
Tryptophan is also present in turkey and is often blamed for the traditional post-Christmas lunch sleepiness that affects people. However, as with milk, turkey doesn’t contain enough tryptophan to have any real effect. Furthermore, post-meal drowsiness may have more to do with what else is consumed along with the turkey and, in particular, carbohydrates.
Eating a meal rich in carbohydrates triggers release of insulin. Insulin in turn stimulates the uptake of large neutral branched-chain amino acids, but not tryptophan. This suggests that "feast-induced drowsiness"— may be the result of a heavy meal rich in carbohydrates, which, via an indirect mechanism, increases the production of sleep-promoting melatonin in the brain.
Even if we ate enough turkey or drank enough milk to get the required amount of tryptophan to feel sleepy it still wouldn’t work! Our bodies don’t absorb enough tryptophan to have any soporific effect.
That’s because the tryptophan has to compete with lots of other amino acids attempting to cross the blood-brain barrier and very little actually gets across.
Scientists believe that the routine of drinking warm milk every night may be the real reason that it helps sleep. The psychological association between milk and sleep is stronger than any chemical present in the milk.
So, keep drinking the warm milk. It may make you drowsy – it’s just not down to tryptophan.
10735 Revised November 2012comments powered by Disqus