How this melatonin-rich milk could help insomniacs sleep easy

Gerald and Julian Burns on their farm in Cork.
Gerald and Julian Burns on their farm in Cork.
Catherine Hurley

Catherine Hurley

Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone in milk, but four times as much of it is produced if the cows are milked during specific points in their sleep cycles, the producers of Lullaby Milk say.

Lullaby Milk is produced on the Ardrahan Farm, which is situated in the village of Kanturk in north-west Cork.

The farm is home to a 120-cow Pedigree Friesian herd that is milked before daybreak to produce the melatonin-rich milk.

The cows are milked in the dark at 2.00am during the summer and 4.00am during the winter, when the levels of their sleep-regulating hormone melatonin are higher.

Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone in milk, but four times as much of it is produced if the cows are milked during specific points in their sleep cycles, according to the farm owners Gerald and Julian Burns.

The morning milk is kept separate to the evening milk in a separate milk tank. The milk produced before daybreak is brought to the North Cork Creameries to be processed and bottled and the milk is process at 5.00am, before the conventional milk is brought in, according to Gerald.

Lullaby Milk was the brainchild of Gerald's late father, Eugene. He stumbled across the research of Finnish professor Maija Valtonen, who studied the effects of melatonin-rich milk and sleep disorders.

After Eugene passed on, Gerald came home from college and took off where his father had left, he went about making the ‘sleep-cure’ on his home farm.

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One challenge the Burns dealt with was persuading Valtonen to pay them a visit in Kanturk and licence the milk to be sold as melatonin-rich.

"At the start, she wouldn't help us because there were other people in France and England that said that they had founded the product. We never argued the fact that we found out about it through her research and we were happy to pay the royalties due to her."

Valtonen finally visited the farm in 2007 and granted them the first licence to produce melatonin-rich milk in Ireland.

"Many of our customers had tried everything to get a good night's sleep," Gerald explains. "Initially they had reservations about the product, they didn't believe it would work, but they were converted. Some of them have said that they have even stopped taking sleeping tablets."

The product's claims have also attracted cynicism, but the Burns insist that their product is backed by solid scientific evidence.

"We have five published studies, so anyone who wants to argue with it is more than welcome to come and read them."

“The best test is children, whatever about adults thinking it was all in their heads, children won’t lie to you and they don’t know the difference from normal milk!

“Our son Oisín gets it every night before bed. I forgot it once and he was bouncing off the walls for the night. I said never again, children won’t lie to you!” he quipped.

Lullaby Milk is available in Aldi stores nationwide and Gerald recommends that it is taken 45 minutes before bedtime.

According to Aldi Lullaby Milk is one of Cork’s most innovative food and drinks suppliers, and one of the five winners of the Grow with Aldi supplier development programme to be listed in its 134 stores nationwide.

Lullaby Milk successfully won a place on the Grow with Aldi supplier development programme earlier this year, and now its melatonin-rich milk will be available on Aldi’s shelves every day.

Gerald and Julian both credited the programme for their support and mentoring of how to further grow their business and said they would highly recommend the programme to any small to medium sized business to help them get started.  

Participants of the programme, developed in partnership with Bord Bia, received tailored mentoring and access to bespoke workshops with Aldi buyers and Bord Bia technical experts, coaching them on the skills to help further develop their products and business. Aldi has invested €500,000 in the programme this year alone.

“The partnership with Gerald and Julian is key to our business objective of supporting local producers and in this instance, a dairy business with an excellent milk product. It sold very well during our August launch and we have confidence in Gerald and Julian, and the high quality of the product they produce,” commented John Curtin, Group Buying Director, Aldi Ireland.  

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