SLEEP DISORDERS FROM COW’S MILK
One hundred forty-six children under the age of five were referred by their physicians to a sleep clinic because of excessive nocturnal waking and crying. A diagnosis of cow’s milk intolerance was made for 17 children; their median age was 13.5 months. In a double-blind crossover study, each of these 17 children was given a diet free of cow’s milk and a diet containing cow’s milk.
When the children were challenged with milk, they had an average of five arousals per night, and their median total sleep duration was 5.5 hours. While on the milk-free diet, the children slept an average of 11 hours, and did not awaken during the night. It took three to six weeks to achieve this effect in 15 children, but only four days in one child. (One child did not improve after six weeks on the milk-free diet) Children on the milk-free diet were also described as quieter and less demanding during the day. When cow’s milk was reintroduced, sleeplessness and restlessness returned in 15 of the children within four days. When the milk was discontinued, these symptoms disappeared within five days. Subsequent accidental exposure to cow’s milk reproduced this pattern.
It is unknown why cow’s milk produces insomnia in some children, but when faced with a child who has a sleep disorder unresponsive to behavioral approaches and who is suspected of having milk intolerance, it is reasonable to try a diet free of cow’s milk.
Published in Journal Watch General Medicine October 10, 1989
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