Evolutionarily, we are programmed to be able to fall asleep at night only if we are safe. If we are worried that the lion who was prowling around earlier may return to eat us, we are highly unlikely to doze off.
We need to feel relaxed and calm in order to sleep. If we have a good sleep-wake cycle, our body sets off a program that make us as calm and relaxed as possible when we are approaching bedtime. Our parasympathetic (relaxation) signal rises as night-time approaches. We also start releasing melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone we produce at night, in the dark. Bright light and blue light prevent our bodies from making it.
Melatonin seems to have some incredible effects on the brain and mind. A randomized, placebo-controlled study has shown that melatonin may be as effective as the drug ‘Midazolam’ in reducing anxiety before undergoing surgery.
Cows, like us, have a day-night cycle. They too produce melatonin at night. If you were to take milk from a cow in the evening, that milk contains 10 times as much melatonin as milk taken during the day.
In a recent study, a group of mice were fed ‘night milk’ at various concentrations and then made to do various tests. They were then put to sleep. Not only did the ‘night milk’ make the mice less anxious but it also sped up the time the mice took to fall asleep and made them sleep for longer.
Unless you are lucky enough to have access to fresh milk from a farm, ‘night milk’ may be very difficult to acquire. There is also the ethical question of whether it would be right for us to wake up snoring cows in the middle of the night to milk them. If we disrupt the cows’ sleep-wake cycle regularly, we could end up making them produce less melatonin and our plan would backfire.
It may be a long time before we see ‘night milk’ on our supermarket shelves. It is far better for us to try to raise our own melatonin levels.
Make sure you get a good night’s sleep every night and dim the lights a few hours before you plan on falling sleep. Investing in a pair of blue-blocker glasses if you work on your computer in the evenings or work shifts may be very wise, too.
dela Peña Irene Joy I., Hong Eunyoung, de la Peña June Bryan, Kim Hee Jin, Botanas Chrislean Jun, Hong Ye Seul, Hwang Ye Seul, Moon Byoung Seok, and Cheong Jae Hoon. Journal of Medicinal Food. November 2015, 18(11): 1255-1261.
Hansen MV, Halladin NL, Rosenberg J, Gögenur I, Møller AM. Melatonin for pre-
and postoperative anxiety in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 Apr