Natural Sleep-Promoting Compound Found In China

a gallon of and a cup of milk

Have you ever noticed how you can become sleepy when you drink a glass of hot milk before bed?

Now note we’re talking about hot milk without cocoa. Cocoa is a stimulant. That drink is also full of simple sugar—a source of quick energy, the exact opposite of what you want and need before settling down for the night.

A group of Chinese scientists believes they have a good idea of why people tend to get sleepy when they drink—and it’s not the action of tryptophan.

Casein tryptic hydrolysate (CTH), a naturally occurring compound in milk, showed promising results in recent experiments publicized by the American Chemical Society.

CTH is made up of various peptides. Peptides are units of molecules linked together. One of these peptides, α-casozepine (α-CZP), is especially promising. Manufacturers will likely produce it and use it to form the basis of future sleep medication. Scientists Lin Zheng and Mouming Zhao are looking for other promising peptides in CTH. The potential market for such a product is enormous. One-third of adults have insomnia.

Their reported results were stunning.

  • Mice given CTH showed a 25 percent increase in the number of mice that fell asleep after ingesting the compound.
  • Of the mice that fell asleep, the average sleep duration increased 400 percent.

In grocery stores, there are a lot of different kinds of “milk” available—soy milk and almond milk, and others. It’s important to note scientists refer to milk from bovines (cows) without cocoa. Hot chocolate and chocolate milk have stimulants that likely counteract the effects of the CTH.

Drinking warm milk by itself isn’t commonly done. People tend to add it to other liquids like coffee. Further, it can be somewhat inconvenient to warm up the milk, and it can be easy to mess up and scald the milk. That makes it terrible tasting. While milk is commonly available, the potential is there for isolated compounds in CTH to form the basis of well-received, effective, and natural sleep medications that may not have the severe side effects of currently available drugs.

How can you see if CTH will work for you?

To see this effect for yourself, you will need to warm up some milk and then head off to bed. Do an experiment of one. 

One common way to heat milk is to take an 8-ounce cup and heat it in the microwave for 15 seconds and stir. Then warm for another 15 seconds until you get it to 180 degrees Fahrenheit (82 degrees Celsius). Heating the milk helps activate the mixture of the CTH and the trypsin in your stomach. Heating it gradually helps to avoid scalding the milk.

You can also try making atole, though you should use a recipe with little to no sugar.

If you find it works well for you, perhaps consider acquiring a specific device for heating milk, like a baby bottle warmer or a special pitcher like the kind used by coffee lovers for their drinks.

Any new pill or medication substance based on CTH is probably a few years off as further study, production, and testing questions still have to be resolved.

Either way, when it comes to natural sleep aids, it’s good to have a few tricks up your sleeve and adhere to good sleep hygiene principles. The substances often stop working after your body habituates to their effects.


James Cobb, RN, MSN, is an emergency department nurse and the founder of the Dream Recovery System. His goal is to provide his readers with simple, actionable ways to improve their health and maximize their quality of life. 

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