Back to


quality posts: 17 Private Messages WootBot


Dispelling all the misinformation in the world is a tough job when you’re up against the biggest liars of all: everyone’s parents. Let’s face it, Mom and Dad mean well, but parenting is a tough gig. In his new book Because I Said So!: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids, Ken Jennings takes on generations of dubious parental wisdom on the dangers of gum-swallowing, knuckle-popping, post-meal swimming, and all the rest. And this month on Woot, Ken will be debunking four bonus parenting myths not found in his book. As we’ll see, Mother and Father don’t always know best.

Parental Myth #1: Drink Some Warm Milk Before Bed!

A glass of warm milk is an age-old folk remedy for insomnia. Mom’s bedtime advice got a nutritional boost in the 20th century when science discovered that milk is a good source for something called tryptophan, an amino acid sometimes prescribed as a sleep aid because the brain converts it into the sleep-regulating neurotransmitter melatonin.

warm milk

The problem is that, as we’ve seen in a past "Debunker" column, tryptophan doesn’t work as a sleep aid unless it’s taken on an empty stomach in dosages you’d never find in a glass of milk (or a serving of Thanksgiving turkey, or any of the other supposed tryptophan-rich foods sometimes recommended by Mom’s mental storehouse of 1970s-era Reader’s Digest articles). Milk is rich in protein, and a 2003 study at MIT found that protein inhibited the effects of tryptophan on the brain. Milk protein is also a good source of tyrosine, an amino acid often found in "mental alertness" supplements for its caffeine-like properties. And fully 60 percent of human adults are lactose intolerant, meaning that a bedtime glass of milk could lead to sleep-disturbing digestive problems for a majority of people worldwide. It’s quite possible that a glass of milk before bed could perk you up instead of settling you down.

Of course, any hot beverage after Jon Stewart (or, if you’re over forty, after Leno) will raise your body temperature and relax tense muscles. But the real reason why people swear by warm milk is probably psychological: the hot-milk routine soothes them, and they nod off because they think they will. But nutritionally speaking, a protein-rich snack like milk isn’t the way to go before bed. Instead, try an evening meal with a high glycemic index. Your blood sugar will spike and leave you feeling sluggish hours later when it’s time for bed. A big pasta dinner might not be great for your heart or your waistline, but you’ll sleep like a baby.

Quick Quiz: As fans of the movie A Christmas Story know, what brand of milk flavoring, often drunk warm, used to sponsor the Little Orphan Annie and Captain Midnight radio shows?

Ken Jennings is the author of Because I Said So!, Brainiac, Ken Jennings's Trivia Almanac, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at or on Twitter as @KenJennings.

Photo by Flickr user avlxyz. Used under a Creative Commons License.


quality posts: 4 Private Messages mndvs737



quality posts: 0 Private Messages sideshowmike

why do they call it Ovaltine? the cup's not oval... the can's not oval. they should call it Roundtine!!


quality posts: 9 Private Messages dukeofwulf

After Jon Stewart, I un-mute the TV and watch Colbert.


quality posts: 155 Private Messages bsmith1

Nestle Abuelita


quality posts: 1 Private Messages poopfeast420

Yeah I was wondering if you were of the opinion that it's mostly a placebo--kinda like with how we use comfort foods in a way. If people really *think* it makes them tired, their expectations will do the rest of the work for them.


quality posts: 3 Private Messages dtristano

Plus there's the obvious problem of drinking a large glass of liquid before going to bed -- having to pee 30 minutes later.


quality posts: 602 Private Messages bluejester

Of course, its not really the warm milk your parents gave you, but the 20cc's of codeine that they spiked it with that put you to sleep.


quality posts: 2 Private Messages loatu

60% are lactose intolerant? Where. I need this debunked... I suppose if you count Asia and other places where they don't drink milk, but I can tell you for sure, the number of people I know that are lactose intolerant is far fewer than 60% of the people that I know.


quality posts: 149 Private Messages ckeilah

That's why you add 6tblsp of MALT to your warm milk! It calms acid, delivers a nice protein reserve, and jacks the glycemic index through the roof, so soon after consumption you're out cold, and sleep more than the usual 2hrs. ;-)

Seriously. Add malt. You'll see.

Please do not increment my Quality Posts count. 69 is a good place to be. ;-)
MOD: We had to...we just HAD TO...


quality posts: 40 Private Messages vipermjb
sideshowmike wrote:why do they call it Ovaltine? the cup's not oval... the can's not oval. they should call it Roundtine!!

That's gold Jerry....GOLD!


quality posts: 4 Private Messages jawsuser

All warm milk ever did for me was give me very bad nightmares.


quality posts: 8 Private Messages jcolag

I always assumed that milk is filling enough to calm some people's nerves (assuming they're not lactose intolerant), and doesn't have much to do with any nutritional impact. And it doesn't have a very strong flavor to distract.

The warmth could have a similar effect. Add those to a placebo effect, and you might have something.

But I'm not sure I can buy the proportion of lactose-intolerant people. It may have been a close number in the past, but I know a shocking number of Asians, South Asians, and Africans (the groups who traditionally don't carry the tolerance mutation) who drink milk with breakfast and dessert. Either they just didn't drink milk and we assumed it was medical or the mutation has recurred and is spreading.


quality posts: 4 Private Messages ssmith34

Ralphie's Best line of the movie: "Be sure to drink your Ovaltine..? A crummy commercial?! Sonofab#tch!!"