BABIES ARE OFTEN fed warm milk just before they are put to bed. The belief is that warm milk induces a good night’s sleep. In India, especially in the south, curd rice, prepared at room temperature, is also fed to a baby at night for its calming effect. Practitioners of both will vouch for its efficacy. But does science back it up? Yes, very much so.
Warm milk relaxes the muscles, which, in turn, slows down the body’s responses. This general slowing down helps ease one’s transition into a state of sleep. A baby sleeps better when its stomach is full as opposed to one that is rumbling with hunger or only half filled.
Drowsiness after a glass of milk can also be psychologically induced. Milk is often associated with memories surrounding a mother’s or any other primary caregiver’s love and care. Such comforting thoughts can relax and calm the brain, easing it into a state of sleepiness.
If you feed your child well before (2-3 hours) bedtime, it would be a good idea to offer a glass of warm milk before he/she hits the bed. Do make sure to brush your child’s teeth post the glass of milk, especially if you add sugar or flavouring powder as they tend to coat the enamel, off which bacteria tend to thrive.
What about curd or curd rice? One of the top reasons for babies not falling asleep is gut irritability. A high-spice, masala-laden or gas-inducing meal can cause this. Curds help calm the tummy by lining the gut with good bacteria.
But it is not just warm milk or curd/curd rice that can help a baby get a good night’s sleep. In the brain, serotonin, a neurotransmitter, regulates mood, pain perception, hunger and sleep cycles. A blood-brain barrier system prevents this serotonin from entering our brain from the bloodstream. Serotonin, therefore, has to be synthesised in the brain itself from an amino acid called tryptophan. This acid later gets converted to serotonin (and later into melatonin). Some of the best sources of tryptophan are poultry, fish, meat, milk and dairy products, eggs, soy products and nuts.