Drinking the nighttime milk of cows may help insomniacs fall asleep.
A German firm has recently patented a new milk product, which it claims contains high levels of sleep-regulating hormone melatonin, ABC News reports.
The Munich-based company, Milchkristalle, believes that if its herd of cows is milked between 2 and 4 a.m. the animals will produce more melatonin than during the daytime.
The milk is then freeze-dried, packed and sold under the brand Nightmilk Crystals, which can be mixed with milk or yogurt and consumed before going to bed.
"It tastes like milk, maybe a little bit stronger," said Maike Schnittger, a Hamburg resident who uses Nightmilk Crystals.
Schnittger was out of work for a while and at night worries used to flood her mind, keeping her up for hours. But she says taking Nightmilk Crystals was a huge help, conking her out in just 30 minutes.
"It was a deep sleep and the next morning I felt really awake," she said, adding that she likes that the product is natural.
To further boost the hormone production, the cows are fed clover and soothed under warm red lights to calm them while being milked. And during the day when the weather is good, the pampered animals are turned out in a pen with grass and deep, cozy sand.
The special treatment, as claimed by the firm, helps yield milk that has ten times more melatonin than the normal milk.
After years of research, Nightmilk Crystals' inventor Tony Gnann says his studies show that giving cows different care and milking them during the middle of the night changes the level of nocturnal melatonin in their blood and the milk they produce.
Melatonin, which is widely available without a prescription in the US, is under much stricter restrictions in Europe where it's only available at pharmacies.
The hormone is naturally produced by the body and used by the brain to regulate the sleep-wake cycle. Doctors often recommend supplements of melatonin for people who have jet lag or work odd shifts.
"Melatonin won't make you sleepy, but will help you fall asleep if your body clock is out of sync," said David Schulman, a doctor at the Emory University sleep laboratory in Atlanta.
Meanwhile, consumer watchdog groups have questioned the company's science, saying a person would have to drink an impossible amount of the milk product to see results.
Schulman also has concerns about the dose size. The average recommended dose of melatonin is three milligrams, far more than a person would get from the 1,800 picogram dose of the Nightmilk Crystal supplement.
"I'd be surprised if this small a dose did anything at all," Schulman said.