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The Snack Industry Wants To Put Us To Sleep

Several new products aim to become part of our bedtime routine.

Do you ever have the urge to eat a little something, cozy up under a blanket, and sleep like a baby? The snack industry knows that you have. That's why it has settled on the promise of better sleep as a new marketing tool for its products.

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Since the COVID-19 pandemic, two out of every three Americans report sleeping either too much or too little, says the American Psychological Association. At the same time, the global sleep aid market is projected to reach close to $112 billion by 2030. With those numbers in mind, it's no wonder snack brands are heavily interested in the sleeping habits of consumers, and they're stocking shelves with the sleep aid foods to prove it.

Back in 2020, Pepsi jumped on the dream train by announcing the release of a new drink product called Driftwell. The beverage, which was essentially water with supposed sleep-boosting supplements, was set to launch in 2021 and was meant to help consumers de-stress and wind down before bed. CNBC reported that the drink would contain 200 milligrams of L-theanine, an amino acid also found in green tea, plus 10% of the recommended daily value of magnesium. Science has established a possible link between magnesium deficiency and sleep deprivation, though this remains contested among experts.

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It's unclear whether Driftwell is still available for purchase now. The product's website shows that it is "out of stock" at both of its online retailers (Walmart and Amazon), and our own searches of store shelves have yielded zero results. Driftwelll's Instagram page has not posted anything new since March 2022, and Pepsi has not responded to a request for comment.

In February of this year, Post Consumer Brands announced it would be launching a pair of cereals called Sweet Dreams, meant to help consumers establish "healthy nighttime habits." The two varieties each contain lavender and chamomile, among other ingredients aimed at helping people get better sleep. However, The Washington Post points out that Sweet Dreams cereals contain as much as 13 grams of added sugar from cane sugar, corn syrup, "invert sugar," and molasses, which science has shown can actually be detrimental to sleep.

The Washington Post also notes that experts are unclear whether the product will actually have more than a minor impact on sleep. So why promote a bedtime cereal line?

"It's a potential new eating occasion," Nicholas Fereday, executive director of food and consumer trends at investment firm Rabobank, told The Washington Post. "If they can somehow turn it into a ritual, and it becomes more habit rather than the occasional thing, they'll start getting their repeat purchases."

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In addition to cereal and beverages, NightFood, a brand specifically aimed at "guilt-free" (a term we just love at The Takeout) nighttime snacking, offers "sleep-friendly" cookies and ice cream with ingredients also meant to aid sleep. Its ice cream products are promoted as containing more tryptophan, calcium, magnesium, and zinc than traditional ice cream brands. (No, there is not a Thanksgiving dinner flavor.) The brand's Prime Time Chocolate Chip cookies contain added vitamin B6 and inositol. Some studies have shown that inositol can help improve sleep quality.

There are also plenty of "sleepy" chocolate brands out there containing similar ingredients that advertise themselves as helping consumers sleep more soundly. However, plenty of experts have long noted that eating too much at night or too close to bedtime can impede sleep rather than aid it.

Erin Hanlon, a research associate professor at the University of Chicago and behavioral neuroscientist who studies sleep, told The Washington Post that while it's fascinating to see companies marketing foods for a better night's sleep, a box of sugary cereal might not be the best strategy.

So maybe these brands want you to get a good night's rest, or maybe they just want you to incorporate a fourth (or fifth?) meal into your day by marketing it as a "healthy" choice, an optimization of your bedtime routine. Either way, not much has shown that these products deliver on their promise. Maybe it's all just a dream that won't come true.

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