With health and wellness top of mind during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, maintaining good health by getting a proper night’s sleep has risen in importance. According to a worldwide study in 2020 by Philips, just under half of adults (49%) are satisfied with their sleep and many struggle with sleep disorders. The same study revealed that 60% of respondents are interested in new sleep aids.
Thanks to recent studies and books on the importance of sleep, including Matthew Walker’s international best seller, Why We Sleep, many people have absorbed the message that good rest promotes mental health, supports the immune system, helps manage weight and has implications for a host of chronic diseases. This has motivated more sleep-deprived individuals to search for solutions than ever before, giving rise to new natural food and drink options that are more appealing than supplements.
The range of ingredients used for sleep support are varied and range from familiar botanicals and popular ‘sleepytime’ teas to Eastern-oriented Ayurvedic and adaptogenic plants and everyday foods like dried sour cherries. This spectrum of functional ingredients offers something for everyone, allowing consumers to find the ingredient and formulation that appeals to their taste, dietary lifestyle and belief system. Edgier ingredients like CBD and nootropic chemicals are also playing a role.
Botanicals being promoted for sleep include valerian root, lavender, poppy, passionflower, hop flower, butterfly pea flower and the classic relaxation floral, chamomile. Herbal teas are a typical application but what’s new are layered formulas and positioning targeted at sleep. In the US, Numi Organic Tea launched Sweet Slumber Tea while the Republic of Tea has a Beautifying Botanicals Beauty Sleep tea line with blue-tinted butterfly pea flower. So Good So You Probiotic Sleep Shot is an organic cold-pressed juice shot with California poppy flower and lavender.
Ayurvedic and adaptogenic ashwagandha, or Indian ginseng, is growing in functional foods designed for stress relief and balance, but an active component in the leaves may induce sleep. Along with turmeric, which may also help prevent symptoms of sleep deprivation, ashwagandha enhances Pukka’s Organic Latte Night Time and Gaia Herbs’ Golden Milk powder.
Warm teas and lattes are an obvious bedtime tonic, but new foods positioned explicitly for sleep support are an exciting innovation. In the U.S., Nightfood is a ‘nighttime ice cream’ that promotes better slumber with added magnesium and glycine on top of lower sugar and higher protein and fibre than regular ice cream. The formulation is designed not to elevate blood sugar levels that can disrupt sleep. Nestlé is incubating Goodnight Food, which is a chocolate bar treat laced with L-theanine, magnesium and casein protein. Good Source Snacks offers Evening Calm chocolate clusters with melatonin-rich dried cherries, turmeric, honey and oats.
Dried sour cherries, fatty fish, ‘night milk’ and kiwi fruit are other foods found to promote sleep in a Columbia University and New York Obesity Research Center study. Dried cherries are the base ingredient in Cheribundi, promoted to active consumers in part as a sleep aid; melatonin from cherries is also found in supplement form, underscoring the effectiveness which has been clinically studied. Innovative German brand NachtMilchkristalle taps into the traditional wisdom of drinking cow’s milk before bed, using milk from cows milked at night when melatonin and tryptophan concentrations are higher.
GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid, a naturally occurring amino acid, may calm alpha brain waves and cut down more frantic beta waves to relieve anxiety and promote sleep. This nootropic is appearing in products designed for improved cognitive function. Som Sleep, a canned beverage found in US vitamin shops, features GABA, magnesium, L-theanine and melatonin. GABA can also be found in fermented pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, miso and sprouted brown rice.
Studies supporting this range of ingredients show there is some truth to efficacy claims, however brands seeking to leverage these herbs, plants and foods will be required to dig deeper to understand levels and dosage amounts needed when developing new products. But it’s worth investing in more food and drink that supports better sleep to suit a variety of consumer types and lifestyles because in an uncertain global future, more people than ever may be in need of a little help getting rest and staying asleep.
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