Why Does Milk Make Me Tired?

by Jerrico_Usher

Have you ever wondered why milk makes you tired? How about why the milk has to be warm? There is more than meets the eye here...

Many people know that milk contains something that makes them tired but have no idea what. Others realize the nutrient tryptophan is in milk and THAT is what makes them tired but again, don't know why or if this statement is even true! The truth is a bit elusive but fascinating and has more to do with than just the milk, it's being warm or cold, and it's ingredients. It's actually a bit of psychology as well as the ingredients.

In this article I'm going to talk about what tryptophan is (briefly) and how it fits into the full circle of why some people get tired from "warm milk" while others find it does nothing to them. The answer may surprise you!

Jerrico & Hailey
Jerrico & Hailey

Wives-Tale? I Think Not. Try- Mom's/Dad's Tale

The Baby Powder Effect

Milk has tryptophan- pure and simple this is the "active ingredient" that puts you to sleep. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid in that the body cannot create on it's own (i.e. without food). Your body has amino acids and essential amino acids.

Amino acids are created within the body, brain, and nervous system where as "essential" ones the body needs and uses but cannot create without at least a precursor (nutrients from foods/drinks) require nourishment.

Drinking milk warm or cold has the same tryptophan so cold or hot/warm your body still gets the same amount. Likely, physically- the warm part is a stimulation in memory I call the "baby powder effect".

When we were babies and cried more than not because our diapers were, (shall we say- soiled?) from the gobs of milk we drank? Our mothers (and fathers) quickly ran to our rescue to calm us, clean us up and once again we felt "comfortable and safe". As a baby we also passed out once safety was established and we felt relaxed again. The warm fluid entering your body also tends to relax you (but the taste of warm milk will often counter that affect!).


Association Is Powerful








It's this association, the same one surrounding "baby powder smell" that we associate with that time of both vulnerability, a time before all the stress and worry- but rather the time of intrigue, growth, and constant frustration that was always alleviated when we cried- with milk!

Because we cried we got more formula/milk, our diapers changed, cleaned, and safety, comfort, compassion- all things related to safety and relaxation- then often- sleep until the cycle repeated.

The baby powder smell calms most of us, takes us into a neural network of thought patterns that preceded our stress, our independence, and overall reminds us of our mother and the security of our childhood. Being held in our childhood and falling asleep to the milk or formula (warm) made it easier to fall asleep.

The associated womb, safety, comfort, and constant "hush little baby don't you cry, mommas going to sing you a la labye..." and other songs that helped us sleep and relax. We absorbed a lot of lessons (wow my hands move, oh but it's hard to keep them still, or move them to where we want)- the smallest things that we all take for granted are as stressful as a hard day of doing a tedious job or just getting through the day- but to a baby, unlike the "getting through the day" for us- there was always mom, dad, little sisters, and overall- security and comfort- and long days work that always invited sleep.

Wait, but for me milk doesn't make me tired? It makes me sick? Why's that?

Because different people have different dispositions to certain chemicals, some people may get very tired after drinking milk, eating a turkey or peanut butter and jelly sandwich (all have tryptophan in them), while others won't be affected at all. As far as the associations to a better relaxing (time you slept a lot) state that the warmth in warm milk and the tryptophan effects provide it all depends on your personal perspectives/associations to milk and sleep (and your biological make up of course).

Tryptophan's Physical and Emotional Effects

Tryptophan is a powerful chemical that when consumed from foods or supplements causes some equally powerful reactions where sleep is concerned.

Tryptophan converts both into Serotonin (helps you wake up) and Melatonin (helps you sleep)- but this is dependent on many co-factors.

If drank at night- and even with the baby powder effect in swing (warm milk), your mind may think, I want to sleep- the body's chemicals may or may not react to your thoughts on this and if other things aren't happening to counter sleep (i.e. too much caffeine, stimulants etc... in the body), then the tryptophan may be converted into melatonin(body's natural sleep inducer).

When you're ready to sleep (dark, under covers for a while), Serotonin in the body converts to Melatonin. This puts you into a nice sleep but also turns the rest of the body's muscles off so you don't act out your dreams. Serotonin activates the muscles and melatonin relaxes them, so you can see how the sleep/wake cycle works chemically.

If your eating the right foods and the body is getting enough precursors (nutrients and amino acids in foods the body converts into serotonin or melatonin (through the penal gland in your brain)) then sleeping and feeling alert when your awake happens naturally. If you're not, your body may not have enough resources to convert Serotonin into Melatonin and sleeping becomes hard.








This is where milk, turkey, and a few other foods come in and rescue you to sleep. A turkey sandwich at bedtime with some milk will create enough resources in your body to help it put you to sleep. Tryptophan is in both turkey and milk. If warm milk affects you (based on the "baby powder effect" above) then this helps you mentally relax so you can pass out.

Other Sources That Network And Produce More Tryptophan- thus sleepy

Peanuts (peanut butter?) and milk, such as a peanut butter sandwich and milk can induce sleepiness due to the peanuts and milk both containing tryptophan- the milk may make you tired due to the flood of tryptophan and the emotional associations you have to them. This sleepy feeling is often euphoric and lovely- now you know why.

Warm Milk And The Body

Warm milk tends to enter the system faster since it doesn't have to first warm it up before breaking it down. Milk in general soothes the stomach after a big meal or acidic meal, that can relax stress and thus calm you. The warm feeling in your tummy reminds you of that deliciously relaxing warm bottle once upon a time...


I hope this gave you a better idea of what's going on that makes warm milk a sleep inducer. If you drink caffeine after 6pm or all day the caffeine is going to override any tryptophan effects so make sure your cutting out all stimulants (including candy and ice-cream) 6 hours before bed and try the warm milk and peanut butter (how about peanut butter cookies- to fortify the "childhood" relaxed sleep states and has peanut butter in it).

So the bottom line is that tryptophan in milk doesn't necessarily make you tired and it doesn't matter if it's warm milk or cold (I prefer cold). It really has to do with your sensitivity to tryptophan and the power of your associations (strength) to happy sleep moments as a child with the warm milk in the bottle!

Thank you for reading!


Updated: 05/11/2012, Jerrico_Usher
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Rose on 09/25/2013

A cup of chocolate flavored milk always puts me to sleep. Now I know why! Thank you for this page.

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