Having a hard time sleeping? You’re not alone. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been a surge in sleep disorders, with two out of three Americans saying their ability to get a good night’s sleep has become a big problem.
And what do consumer innovators do with big problems? They create answers. In this case, also because they'd probably like a piece of the global sleep aids market that's well on its way to $112 billion of annual revenue.
But it’s not just melatonin and CBD that companies are using to beat a path to the bank. Now, food innovators have decided there’s a way to make some money from the problem by bringing nighttime snacks to sleep’s rescue.
Cereal, chocolate, ice cream, drinks, and other foodstuffs are walking the fine line between the belief that late-night snacking is bad and that just a little of their product will send a user off to LaLa Land.
“Humans are hardwired to store excess calories as it gets closer to bedtime. Cravings for calorie-dense foods peak at night as does overall appetite. Willpower weakens. It’s a perfect storm, and it traps hundreds of millions of us every week,” Sean Folkson, CEO of Minneapolis-based Nightfood, told FoodDive.
And the power players in the global food and beverage world are all over this. Nestlé has its Good Night chocolate, Post has its nighttime cereal Sweet Dreams, and Pepsi has Driftwell, a product dosed with L-theanine to help promote relaxation and de-stress.
How smart – or dumb – is this?
Many being robbed of a good night’s sleep are desperate to find an answer to their problems, even having a “fourth” meal of the day. But sleep experts warn that sleep-inducing munching can be both good and bad.
Avigail Lev, Founder & Director at Bay Area CBT Center, told ConsumerAffairs that on the plus side of the equation, there are some potential health benefits.
“Sleep-friendly snacks may incorporate ingredients like tryptophan-rich foods, melatonin, rice bran, and vitamins, which have shown promise in promoting better sleep,” she said. “These products could offer potential health benefits beyond inducing sleep.”
On the other side of the equation are four things that concern Lev. The main one is sleep disruption risk.
“Some studies suggest that snacking before bed can lead to sleep disruptions, which contradicts the purpose of sleep-inducing food products. Consumers should be cautious and mindful of their individual sleep patterns and sensitivities,” she told us.
Another problem is taste challenges. As you imagine, incorporating certain sleep-inducing ingredients, such as valerian root, into food products while maintaining palatability isn’t as easy as mixing chocolate and peanut butter and can be quite the challenge.
Lev says consumers should also be aware that going the eat-to-sleep route is not a quick fix. “While sleep-friendly snacks may contribute to overall sleep health and well-being, they are not a guaranteed solution for sleep problems. Consumers should not rely solely on these products and should consider comprehensive approaches to improving sleep, such as maintaining a healthy diet and sleep routine,” she emphasized, adding that the effectiveness of these products can vary among individuals.”
Is CBT-I the answer?
Not everyone is buying this eat your way to a restful night's sleep. Dr. Robert Philip Lindeman, for one, told ConsumerAffairs that he's not impressed.
"I know of no evidence that snacking before bed is beneficial for sleep. To the contrary, I suspect that regardless of the composition of the snack, eating before bed would interfere with sleep, metabolism -- hence, weight gain -- stress levels, and the ability to exercise the next day," he said.
Dr. Shelby Harris, the director of Sleep Health at Sleepopolis, said the reality is that there’s zero significant scientific data behind these products.
"While they may contain certain amounts of ingredients for things that in limited studies have been shown to set the stage for sleep, there’s no regulation on the amounts in each product, and people might consume differing amounts," she said.
She thinks these products may have some value for someone with occasional sleep issues, but for someone with routine issues, they should seek help from a sleep specialist.
"If there are issues with insomnia, non-medication approaches such as CBT for insomnia [are] considered the gold standard treatment for insomnia, ahead of mediation, as it has the most solid data behind it.”
CBT-I (cognitive behavior therapy for insomnia) is a therapy that explores the connection between the way we think, the things we do, and how we sleep.
People who have trouble sleeping may also have other health conditions. The problem and potential remedies should be discussed with a healthcare professional.