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Does Milk Help You Sleep?

September 27, 2022

by Lauren Manaker, registered dietitian

Getting children to sleep can be easier said than done. Despite our best efforts to allow our children to get enough sleep, many kids fight bedtime tooth and nail—ultimately leaving the children and the parents exhausted the next day.

Toddlers need 11 to 14 hours of sleep every 24 hours, usually accomplished by sleeping 10 to 12 hours at night and one to two hours during the day. Getting that sweet spot of sleep hours can help children be more alert, have a better mood, and be more resilient.

If you have a toddler who frequently misses the mark when it comes to sleeping 11 to 14 hours daily, you know how this lack of sleep can leave you with a grumpy and emotion-filled tiny human in no time. Plus, having a child who won’t go to sleep (or stay asleep) can leave parents feeling pretty run down and frustrated.

A Warm Glass of Milk

Sure, some tried-and-true methods are frequently recommended to parents who are tired of those long bedtime battles, including having a soothing bedtime routine and keeping the child’s bedroom dark and cool in the evening. And when it comes to things little ones can eat or drink before bedtime (before they brush their teeth, of course!), there isn’t a solution that is more popular than a classic warm glass of milk.

A boy drinks milk in bed.

But can sipping on this timeless soothing drink, or any dairy food for that matter, really help kids get some rest after a long day? And does warm milk help you sleep? Are there foods that help you sleep? Or is offering your child a bedtime dairy snack just another old wives’ tale based more on wishful thinking than fact?

Dairy and Sleep

Dairy is the quintessential food group to support bone health, thanks to the calcium, magnesium, and a handful of other bone health-supporting nutrients naturally found in milk, cheese, and yogurt. But dairy foods have so much more to offer than being a delicious vessel for important bone-building minerals.

While there is no denying that dairy foods are chock-full of key micronutrients that are important for our overall health, they also provide a variety of amino acids that our bodies require. Tryptophan is one amino acid that is found in high amounts in dairy foods.

Once tryptophan is consumed, the body converts it to melatonin, a hormone that helps manage our sleep-wake cycle. Specifically, this hormone helps get certain people to sleep more easily. So, if you have ever asked the question “does milk help you sleep?” the answer is that it certainly may, thanks to the tryptophan content!

Dad carries a sleeping boy.

Magnesium for Sleep

One protein found in milk, a-Lactalbumin protein, has the highest tryptophan content among the food proteins normally consumed by humans.

But tryptophan isn’t the only factor that may help crown dairy foods as one of the best choices for sleep support. Milk and dairy products contain antioxidants and anti-inflammatory proteins that may help support sleep quality. Additionally, many dairy foods are a natural source of magnesium, a mineral that is linked to improved sleep quality, according to studies.

In many circles, magnesium for sleep is a go-to remedy. Finally, dairy foods provide protein, a macronutrient that promotes satiety. If you have ever had trouble sleeping because your tummy is grumbling due to hunger, you are already very familiar with how consuming a satiating food or drink before bedtime can be helpful on your quest to get quality rest.

Which Dairy Foods Are Best for Sleep Support?

Learning that eating dairy foods can be a smart addition to a bedtime routine doesn’t mean allowing your child to wolf down a gallon of ice cream in their PJs once the sun goes down. Instead, a proper portion of quality dairy food containing no added sugars is the ticket to possibly having a toddler who falls asleep at bedtime (and stays asleep too).

A girl eats string cheese.

Here are some top foods to include in your child’s evening routine if they aren’t falling asleep as easily as they should.

Organic Valley Milk

No matter whether your toddler is enjoying whole or 2%, sipping on a soothing cup of milk before it is time to brush their teeth can be one of the simplest ways to include dairy into their diet. Organic Valley milks are a natural choice for children because every variety is non-GMO, sustainably produced, and contains no added antibiotics or hormones.

Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese is a protein-packed dairy snack that is delicious either on its own, enjoyed with a sprinkle of cinnamon, or combined with fresh fruit. Organic Valley offers two varieties of cottage cheese–4% milkfat and 2% milkfat. Both varieties are 100% organic and check all of the same boxes that all Organic Valley products offer, including being non-GMO and free from synthetic pesticides.

Organic Valley Stringles

For a convenient snack that is portion controlled and totally child-friendly, Organic Valley Stringles certainly fit the bill. Made from real organic mozzarella cheese, these individually wrapped cheese sticks are ready to enjoy at any moment. As always, Stringles are made from milk produced without hormones, antibiotics, or GMOs.

Lactose-Free Milk

Organic Valley Lactose-Free Milk is a perfect solution for children who experience lactose intolerance but could benefit from having dairy before they get tucked in at night. With all of the benefits Organic Valley milks always provide but with zero lactose, this milk is a delicious option for those who normally experience some tummy trouble when they drink regular milk.

A boy pours organic milk into a glass.

Dairy: A Natural Solution for Bedtime Struggles

Learning that the simple act of including dairy foods in an evening routine may help support sleep should be music to people’s ears, especially if their children are already dairy-lovers at heart.

While sipping on a glass of milk or noshing on a delicious Stringles in the evening won’t guarantee that every single sleepy head will fall into a restful slumber after they have their dairy fix, including these foods in your children’s diet comes with little risk, and it may actually help. Of course, if you suspect your child has a true sleep disorder, you should discuss this with your health care provider to find a solution that best fits your family.

If you are an exhausted parent who is desperate to have a child who will actually go to sleep (and stay asleep), along with creating a calming environment for their child’s bedtime, sticking to a bedtime routine, and limiting evening screen time, offering foods that help you sleep, like a serving of dairy, before your kiddo brushes their teeth may be the missing link that you and your child desperately need to get those restful zzz’s. And keep in mind that, like with everything that comes with raising children, this too shall pass, and with time you and your child will get the rest you all need to make it through the day while feeling like a normally functioning human.

Lauren Manaker is an award-winning registered dietitian and book author. After spending over 15 years working in health care and industry, she started a consulting business focusing on reproductive, pediatric and women’s health. Lauren resides in Charleston, South Carolina, with her husband and young daughter. In her spare time, she can be found enjoying an outdoor oyster roast in the cooler months, doing anything on the water in the warmer months, and practicing yoga year-round.

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