Wake-Up Call: Natural Sleeping Products

The Better Sleep Council estimates that 32% of Americans suffer from insomnia at least once a week. That means there are a lot of folks fretting the night away, wondering what they can do to rest easier. After hearing nightmare stories concerning the side effects of prescription medications, many consumers are waking up to the idea of using natural alternatives. As demand grows, supermarkets find

The Better Sleep Council estimates that 32% of Americans suffer from insomnia at least once a week. That means there are a lot of folks fretting the night away, wondering what they can do to rest easier.

After hearing nightmare stories concerning the side effects of prescription medications, many consumers are waking up to the idea of using natural alternatives. As demand grows, supermarkets find it's time to spruce up their displays of traditional products like herbal teas, as well as functional beverages that contain sleep-inducing ingredients.

“Traditional medicines represent the accumulated knowledge of generations of practitioners who've observed their effects with patients,” said Josef Brinckmann, vice president of research and development for Traditional Medicinals, an herbal medicine manufacturer in Sebastopol, Calif. “So from my point of view, there's a lot of weight that should be given to a formulation that remains in use, because if it doesn't work, it's not going to remain in the pharmacies.”

The company, which bases all it products on established European formulations, makes Organic Nighty Night, an herbal tea containing hops, chamomile and passion flower.

“If you visit the pharmacies throughout Europe, you'll see closely comparable herbal teas like these, for these same indications,” he added.

Some wellness consumers interested in relief from insomnia are turning to more modern solutions, such as those manufactured by Dreamerz, one of the first companies in the United States to introduce products containing melatonin. This naturally occurring hormone helps regulate the circadian rhythms of several biological functions, including sleep.

“We think there's a real opportunity with people who are looking for something that's effective but doesn't have side effects and is not addictive,” said Amanda Steele, founder of the San Francisco-based company.

The question facing retailers is where to merchandise these types of products. According to Steele, consumers typically look for sleep aids in the pharmacy area, so setting alternatives next to OTC medications is the norm. Shoppers seem to know what they're looking for, having heard about the products from friends or their health care professional. Purchase behaviors in general have been helped along by growing acceptance of natural remedies, which tend to be a bit milder and less heavy-handed than their conventional counterparts. For example, Dreamerz products contain 0.3 milligram of melatonin per serving, the amount humans themselves produce when falling asleep. Drugs and supplements can have 10 times that amount, according to Steele.

Insights like these have helped consumers grow increasingly comfortable extending their wellness purchases to products not directly related to a healthful diet.

“It appears as though science has corroborated what tradition has proven,” said Brinckmann.