When I was a kid, I often couldn’t fall asleep, whether because I was too busy thinking about the adventures I would have the next day, or because I was too worried about the next day’s test that might ruin my 2nd grade career. But my mom, as usual, had the answer. Any night I had trouble sleeping, which was most nights, she would bring me a glass of perfectly warm milk. (As a result of so many sleepless nights, I have very strong bones today). Even today, if I’m lying wide-eyed in my bed in the middle of the night, I’ll get up and heat a pan of milk on my stove. And it still works—within a few minutes of drinking, I’m out like a light.
I never knew what it was about warm milk that so magically put me to sleep, so I decided to do a little searching. Many people say that its the tryptophan in milk that does the trick. Tryptophan is that sneaky little amino acid also found in turkey, also known to put us to sleep. But is that really it? Scientifically, no. While its true that both turkey and milk contain tryptophan, and that tryptophan is a relaxant when in large doses, neither milk nor turkey contains enough of it to make a difference in the amount your body absorbs. (So that long nap you have to have after Thanksgiving? Apparently, just a result of over-eating).
However, I have yet to find something as effective as warm milk for putting me to sleep. So what’s the answer? It turns out it may be as simple as the fact that my mom gave it to me when I was child—now I think it will help me sleep, so it does. It subconsciously reminds me of my childhood and my mother, which are both comforting thoughts. But it’s not all psychological; the warmth of the milk warms the body, in turn relaxing muscles and slowing body response, both steps that naturally precede sleep.
While my mom usually just gave me plain milk, I’ve found a recipe that makes my nighttime ritual even more enjoyable and I can’t help sharing it with you. Sweet dreams!
- 1 cup milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 tablespoons white sugar
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
Stir together the milk, vanilla and sugar in a large mug. Microwave on high for 1 minute and 30 seconds. Stir in the nutmeg and serve warm.