Do Old Wives' Tales Work When You Have Trouble Sleeping?

Posted by Rachel Marshall - Brand Manager on 30th Apr 2022

Do Old Wives' Tales Work When You Have Trouble Sleeping?

One of life’s greatest pleasures is falling into a comfy bed at the end of a long day and drifting off to sleep. But what happens when you have trouble sleeping and nipping across to the Land of Nod isn’t as easy as it should be?

Discover some of the weird and wonderful Old Wives' Tales that have been used through the years to bring on the Zzzzzs. Are any of these sleep myths successful treatments for insomnia or could there be better ways to tackle your sleep problems?

Find out which tips may help and which could actually hinder your chances of sleep, as we delve into the world of Old Wives’ Tales and sleep.

A weird and wacky historical cure for insomnia

Ancient humans had some very odd supposed cures for insomnia, many of which would make the strongest of stomachs queasy. One of the strangest suggestions for those that had trouble sleeping included:

Dormouse fat 

In ancient Rome if you were having difficulties getting off to sleep you’d be encouraged to slather your feet in dormouse fat.

You’d be well within your rights to ask what the poor dormouse did to deserve such treatment…

Well, apparently Romans saw how these chunky critters would fatten themselves up before taking a good long snooze during hibernation. They took this as a sign that the fat of the dormouse itself was what they needed for a good night’s sleep.

Old Wives’ Tale Win or Old Wives’ Tale Fail?

Do you really have to ask? Fat-covered feet courtesy of a cute furry friend? That would be a hard no.

Can a glass of warm milk help with sleep problems?

This is one of those sleep myths that may actually hold some truth. Warm milk before bedtime is often associated with childhood and has been promoted as a sure-fire way to get some sleep.

It may be that the mere association of warm milk with childhood makes you feel comforted enough to go to sleep. However, it’s more likely that it is said to help you sleep because of the sleep-inducing amino acid, tryptophan, present in the milk. (1)

What is Tryptophan and how can it help me sleep?

The plant-derived amino acid tryptophan plays an essential part in the production of melatonin and serotonin.

Why is this important? 

Serotonin is a hormone used in the modulation of mood, cognition, learning and memory, and melatonin is a hormone that helps you sleep. When you realise this, it’s easy to see why tryptophan is so important and how drinking something that contains this before bed may help get you in the mood for sleep. (2)

Plant-based milk for sleep

As tryptophan is a plant-derived amino acid, it makes sense that some people prefer to get it straight from a plant source rather than wait for it to be processed via an animal. If you’re vegan, or lactose intolerant, there’s a plant-based alternative to dairy milk you can try if you’re having trouble sleeping. Bananas contain the amino acid tryptophan and are therefore the ideal ingredient to use with plant-milk in your warm bedtime drink. (3)

Bedtime banana milk

Simply blend a ripe or overripe banana with your choice of plant milk and warm the mixture slightly before enjoying your yummy treat before bed.

Old Wives' Tale Win or Old Wives' Tale Fail

The jury is still out on this one, as there is no conclusive evidence that either dairy milk or plant milk drinks help you sleep. However, this is an Old Wives’ Tale that has stood the test of time, so perhaps there is more than just a grain of truth in this one.

Does eating cheese before bed really give you nightmares?

Whereas one dairy product is hailed as a fab way to get to sleep, another has been put firmly on the list of things to avoid before bed if you don’t want to risk getting nightmares.

Despite containing tryptophan, and the fact that some sources suggest that it can help induce sleep, one of the most famous old wives’ tales regarding sleep is that eating cheese before bed will give you nightmares.

Nightmares can be unsettling and may be so frightening that you wake up from a deep sleep that should have been relaxing. Because of this you may well be one of the many people that avoid cheese at night time.

The British Cheese Board

According to an article from the BBC, the British Cheese Board (yes, this was an actual group), conducted research that concluded blue cheese can cause vivid dreams and interestingly, that cheddar cheese causes dreams about celebrities. (4)

Woah there Idris Elba fans! Before you rush off to cram your fridge chock-full of cheddar in the hope of your celebrity crush popping up in dreamland, it’s important to note that the BBC also states that the study wasn’t “scientifically robust”.

Old Wives’ Tale Win or Old Wives’ Tale Fail?

Eating anything just before bedtime is usually frowned upon for all kinds of reasons, including the risk of an increase in acid reflux leading to heartburn in those that already suffer from this uncomfortable condition (5). There is also research that suggests cheese may cause you to stay awake longer as aged cheeses contain high levels of tyramine, an amino acid that can make you feel more alert or even cause migraines. (6)

How can Bensons for Beds help with a good night’s sleep?

Rather than rely on gimmicks and superstition for a great night’s sleep, think about how your choice of bed and mattress could hold the answer to why you aren’t sleeping very well.

Can an old mattress hinder my sleep?

The Sleep Foundation recommends that you replace your old mattress with a new mattress every six to eight years.

The organisation also recommends that you replace your mattress if:

  • The mattress is sagging or damaged - a mattress that is damaged won’t be providing the support you need as you sleep.
  • You awake with aches and pains or muscle stiffness - the wrong comfort rating could lead to lack of support as you sleep.
  • You find that you sleep better on another bed, such as at a hotel, or a friend’s house - a different comfort rating could provide the right support you require as you sleep. Our SleepPRO guide could help you find the perfect comfort rating and mattress for your individual needs.
  • Your allergies appear to be worsening - some mattresses can contain fibres that cause allergic reactions. You could find a hypoallergenic mattress to be preferable to your existing mattress.

Shop Mattresses

Buying the best bed for your needs

Emelia Upholstered Bed Frame

At Bensons for Beds we offer a wide range of beds, from adjustable beds and  TV beds, to divan beds and wooden beds

An adjustable bed may suit you if you need a little help to get upright when getting out of bed. A sturdy wooden bed could be just what you have been looking for to ensure a robust surface on which to put your new mattress.

Whatever type of bed or mattress you need, you can count on our friendly customer service team to help you select the right one for you.

Give us a call on 0808 144 6160 to discuss your individual preferences and to discover how we can help find the best bed for your needs.

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Getting help for sleep disorders

Although Old Wives’ Tales can be loads of fun to listen to, when you’re having trouble sleeping, it's always best to seek professional medical advice. If you're suffering with insomnia, or having many restless nights, contact your GP or other medical professional for advice.

The NHS also provides helpful links to information and services for when you have trouble sleeping. To find out more, visit  NHS Every Mind Matters

Sources: (1) Does Warm Milk Help You Sleep? | Sleep Foundation

(2) Analysis, Nutrition, and Health Benefits of Tryptophan - PubMed (

(3) Tryptophan in Bananas & Insomnia (


(5) Is Eating Before Bed Good for You, or Bad? ( Foods High Tyramine and Why You Should Avoid Them (

(6) 5 Foods High Tyramine and Why You Should Avoid Them (

authors profile
Rachel Marshall
Brand Manager
Rachel has worked at Bensons for Beds for 4 years and has almost 20 years' experience in marketing. In her role at Bensons, Rachel looks after all things brand including PR, brand communications, brand identity, brand partnerships and new product launches.
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