My granddaughter’s parents had taught her a number of decimal places to pi so she could recite them when she was having trouble going to sleep.

Milk and cooky

Milk and cooky (Photo credit: Salim Virji)

(Yes, they are really geeks).

But, one night, she was having a particularly difficult time getting to sleep and wailed, “But, I don’t even know what pi is!”

I told my son about how to use a banana to illustrate what pi is for my seven-year-old granddaughter.

Why didn’t I suggest the age-old wives’ tale about warm milk and getting sleepy?

That’s what I sometimes use.

Sitting down with a good book and a warm glass of milk is very relaxing and makes me sleepy almost as soon as I open the book.

What do pediatricians Dr. Aaron Carroll and Dr. Rachel Vreeman, who investigated a number of health myths in their book, “Don’t Cross Your Eyes…They’ll Get Stuck That Way!” have to say about this traditional method, warm milk, to help you get sleepy?

They say it doesn’t work.

The origins of this myth seem to be that because milk contains tryptophan, a substance that may have some effect on serotonin levels, then milk should make you sleepy.

There are several problems with this assumption.

  • There are other foods that contain even more tryptophan, including eggs and cheese. (1 gram tryptophan per gram of egg white, 0.56 per gram of Parmesan cheese, or 0.25 grams per gram of pork chop, compared to 0.08 grams for a gram of milk)
  • Tryptophan is not absorbed well with food
  • While milk may, as claimed, change how you absorbe tryptophan, there is no evidence to support the claim that a different method of absorption helps you get  sleepy.

So, what does work?

Routine and progressive muscle relaxation, say Carrol and Vreeman.

They suggest associating things with going to sleep.

Thus, drinking a glass of milk just before bed may help you go to sleep because you associate it with going to sleep, as I do with my warm glass of milk and reading a book in a chair before bed.

But, other associations may work as well, like associating the bed with sleep and sleep only, instead of reading or watching tv.

They suggest, for instance, that if you can’t get to sleep after 20 minutes in bed, you get up and do something else until you are sleepy, so you won’t think of difficulty in sleeping when you go to bed.

The other way to get sleepy is to concentrate on relaxing one set of muscles at a time, while you are in bed, until you go to sleep.

I’ve found this to be one of the best ways to go to sleep, starting at the tips of my toes and telling my muscles to relax, then working my way up.

If I’m not asleep before I get to my head, I get up and read until I am sleepy.

What are your favorite techniques for going to sleep? 

Thank you to Don’t Cross Your Eyes for debunking this health myth.

Click on the title, Don’t Cross Your Eyes…They Might Get Stuck That Way to order a copy from amazon, to read about more health myths.


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers


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