Is it true that drinking a glass of warm milk before going to bed induces sleep?

This is perhaps the best known of all folk remedies for curing the insomnia, but the folklore is not the only evidence for the value of milk as a sedative. The belief has more or less been validated by scientific research.
As it turns out, milk contains a biochemical agent that may help the tired person drift off to sleep. The agent, L-tryptophan is an amino acid essential to the body. The amount in a single glass of milk is not itself sufficient to bring on sleep directly. But combine L-tryptophan with soothing warmth, a feeling of satiety from milk’s many nutrients and, not least, a belief that milk will do the job – and together they can all add up to a ticket to the land of sleep.

This is how it works: One of the things for which the body uses L- tryptophan is to make serotonin; a brain chemical that scientific research has suggested may be a key link in the mechanism that triggers the onset of sleep. Serotonin is secreted by neurons to the reticular activating system, located deep in the brain. This system controls the level of activities of the whole central nervous system and is partly responsible for the mind’s ability to direct its attention. The lower portion of the reticular activating system is thought to maintain the brain’s normal state of wakefulness. And insomnia has been linked with damage to the neurons that normally secrete serotonin into the system.

When supply of serotonin is reduced due to the damaged neurons, its shortfall tends to keep one awake since the reticular activating system does not become dormant in absence of serotonin. In such circumstances, an extra supply of serotonin through milk may assist in getting a good night’s sleep.

Additional reading:
Sleep (Wikipedia)
Methods of falling asleep (Wikipedia)

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