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Milk collected at night may help combat insomnia

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Cows milked at night secrete higher levels of chemicals that put us to sleep. (iStock)

A glass of warm milk has long been thought to help bring on the zzz’s.  

But it turns out drinking milk collected from sleepy cows may be an even better way to induce sleepiness.

A team of researchers at Sahmyook University in Seoul, South Korea found that lab mice were more sluggish, fell asleep faster and less active than usual when given a dose of “night milk”— milk from cows that had been collected at night.

Why would milk at night have different properties than milk collected during daylight hours?

According to the study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, cows have much higher levels of tryptophan and melatonin flowing their bodies at night which transfer into the liquid milked from their udders. Night milk contains about 24 percent more tryptophan and about 10 times as much melatonin than day-milked milk. Both chemicals have been proven to reduce anxiety and aid in sleep when taken individually as supplements. Melatonin helps to regulate biorhythm in all animals. The effects of the milk on the mice were comparable to a dose of diazepam, a drug used to treat anxiety.

The revelation could be welcome news to the more than 40 million Americans who suffer from insomnia at least once a week-- but the research hasn’t yet been tested on human subjects in a comprehensive way. 

However, the findings from Sahmyook University researchers have been replicated before.

In 2010, a German company patented a “nocturnal milk” product-- Milchkristalle GmbH—from cows milked between the hours of 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. In addition obtaining milk at night, the farmers fed the cows large amounts of clover, which contains high levels of protein and tryptophan, which is a key ingredient the body needs to make melatonin.

Carl Bazil, director of the epilepsy and sleep division in Columbia University’s neurology department, was initially skeptic of Sahmyook’s study but after looking at the experiment setup and data said the results could be promising.

“The theory is correct,” Bazil told The Guardian of the principle behind obtaining milk at night to take advantage of the higher levels of naturally occurring melatonin. Though the scientist says more research is needed, to confirm night milk’s effectiveness, he thinks it is probably better than everyone over-medicating.

"It's not a bad thing. Better than everybody taking Ambien."