Can Warm Milk and Counting Sheep Really Help You Sleep?

When I can’t sleep, I’ll try almost anything. But I also don’t want to waste my time on something if it’s simply a passing trend or old wives’ tale. Which got me thinking… Do any of those sleep-inducing remedies my parents talk about really work? I did some research to find out.

Warm Milk? Go for It!

Grab your mug tonight because, yes, warm milk really can help you relax and fall asleep. But it’s not because it contains some magical substance (or because of tryptophan). It’s more likely because drinking warm milk (or almond milk or herbal tea) is a calming ritual that can take you back to your younger days when sleep came easily. Perhaps is reminds you of when your mother or father tucked you in for another cozy night with a nice warm “cuppa” of something. Even the New York Times says so.

Count Sheep? Maybe, Maybe Not.

Sometimes, counting sheep can help you to clear your mind of distracting, stressful thoughts, which can in turn make it easier to fall asleep. But other times, all that counting can become an aggravating distraction in itself. According to the National Sleep Foundation, if you’re still awake and counting after 20 minutes, it’s time to try something else. And perhaps you should skip the sheep altogether. The Sleep Foundation cites research showing that people who picture soothing landscapes such as mountains, waterfalls, sunsets, or beaches may fall asleep faster than those who count ruminants.

Chamomile Tea? Yes, Please.

The case for bedtime tea is similar to that for the soothing ritual of warm milk, but chamomile tea can carry some extra soporific benefits. Molecular Medicine Reports states that chamomile tea has sedative effects, possibly due to the flavonoid apigenin that binds to benzodiazepine receptors in the brain.

One group of people that can often experience sleep troubles is new moms. A study in the Journal of Advanced Nursing found that new mothers who drank chamomile tea for two weeks experienced significantly less symptoms of both sleep inefficiency and depression.

Lavender? Get a Whiff.

Enjoy the smell of lavender? Try adding it to a hot bath before bed to relax your body and mind. The experts at WebMD say lavender oil is calming and can help encourage sleep. And scientists have shown that college students who inhale a lavender-scented patch before bed report better nighttime sleep and more daytime energy than those who sniff a placebo patch. Lavender, their study showed, can be especially helpful when combined with sleep hygiene improvements. In other research,  nursing home residents showed improved sleep quality after aromatherapy with lavender oil.

Bedtime Snack? It’s True, Don’t Go to Bed Too Hungry.

Experts agree, the best sleep-promoting snacks are taken 30 minutes before bed and include a combination of protein and carbohydrates. The National Sleep Foundation recommends a SMALL snack, like half a banana with peanut butter, a whole wheat cracker with some cheese, or cottage cheese with jam. The key here is to keep your snack small. Eating a big meal before bed means your body will be busy digesting the meal, and this can result in impaired sleep from indigestion as well as mental exhaustion.

So, go ahead, sip that mug of milk or chamomile tea, sniff that lavender, and nibble that snack. The sheep? Well, that’s a personal preference, but maybe you can compromise and count them as they wander past a waterfall. Have a great night.