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Jennifer Grebow is editor-in-chief of Nutritional Outlook.
As the sleep market grows more sophisticated, a number of trends are happening.
It’s no secret that many people today do not get the amount of sleep they need. Hectic lifestyles, demanding jobs, family responsibilities, and more drive us daily to perform better, harder, and faster, usually at the sacrifice of sleep and restoration. And this has sent us straight to the retail shelf to find support, sometimes in the form of natural sleep aids and dietary supplements.
At the Council for Responsible Nutrition’s (CRN; Washington, DC) annual conference in November 2019, market researcher IRI (Chicago) noted that the sleep and mood supplement category grew an impressive 16% in 2019 (in the 52 weeks ending August 11, 2019).
Further insight provided to Nutritional Outlook from supplement brand Natrol, based on Nielsen Scantrack data, indicate that the sleep category comprising vitamins, minerals, and supplements (VMS) grew 31% over the past year, outpacing the 4% sales growth seen by the overall total VMS category.
Notably, the company points out, the sleep category is made up “almost entirely” of melatonin-based products.
Looking at sales data for the past five years, David Hilton, Natrol’s director of research and development and regulatory affairs, says, “[T]he melatonin growth rate has been well above category rates for some time and is accelerating. In fact, melatonin is now the second-largest segment behind probiotics in all of VMS.”
The sleep ingredients market reflects this growth for melatonin. Market researcher SPINS (Chicago) reports that in a cross-channel ranking of the top-10 ingredients in terms of dollar change seen in 2019 (during the 52 weeks ending October 6, 2019), melatonin shot up from its previous #10 spot to the #2 spot based on the ingredient’s growth across the mainstream, natural, and specialty gourmet retail outlets combined. Across these channels, melatonin sales grew nearly 29%, from $285 million to $367 million. (For more insights on this cross-channel growth, click here.)
Most of melatonin’s activity is happening in the mainstream retail channel-giving it a broad consumer reach that many supplement ingredients strive to achieve. Breaking down the mainstream data further, SPINS reports for this story that in the mainstream channel alone, melatonin sales during the above time period grew 29.7% to $354 million in sales. Melatonin now reigns as the top-selling sleep ingredient in all three channels SPINS tracks (mainstream, natural, and specialty gourmet), with double-digit growth in each.
Why are consumers so drawn to melatonin? Is it the sheer fact that it’s the most well-known natural sleep aid?
Natrol’s Hilton says that is one reason-but there are others. “[T]he reason melatonin is specifically increasing in popularity is tied to growing consumer confidence in melatonin’s effectiveness, and the powerful macro-trend of consumers looking for more natural and drug-free alternatives to help with their health needs.”
He continues: “The sleep solutions people turned to 10 and 20 years ago largely centered on medicating yourself to sleep with products like ZzzQuil, Tylenol PM, Benadryl, Ambien, and the like. Now, there is a different, drug-free trusted option, and people are excited to choose melatonin over other options.”
Consumers have good reason to be confident in melatonin, including its safety. Michael Grandner, PhD, MTR, associate professor of psychiatry, psychology, nutritional sciences, and medicine, and director of the Sleep & Health Research Program, at the University of Arizona (Tucson, AZ), says, “Melatonin, which is sold as a dietary supplement in the U.S., has more substantial research behind it compared to other compounds sold as supplements. There are thousands of scientific studies that have explored how melatonin works, and there is a good understanding of its use as a sleep aid. For this reason, and its relative safety compared to prescription medications, many people are turning to melatonin as an option that they perceive to be safer than the alternative.”
That doesn’t mean, however, that consumers really understand how melatonin works. In fact, Grandner says, many don’t understand how melatonin can improve sleep, nor how to use it most effectively. “Many people are not actually using melatonin optimally, even though many people are using it,” he states.
For instance, he says, a melatonin supplement’s efficacy is highly dependent on its dosage and timing (i.e., at what point during the day a consumer takes it). “Melatonin is not a treatment for insomnia,” Grandner says. “It is almost always ineffective for this. Also, melatonin is more of a clock-shifter than a sleep-inducer. It is a signal of nighttime to your body. If you give a dose in the middle of the day, it will have little effect since your body knows it's not nighttime. If you give it at night, it also usually has little effect since your body already knows it's nighttime. It is most effective at the transition points. A small amount of melatonin in the evening can make your clock shift earlier-getting sleepy a little earlier but also waking up earlier.” Basically, melatonin will cause you to get drowsy, but it is not sedating, he says.
Higher melatonin dosages are not always better, either, Grandner says, because melatonin is a hormone and not a drug. In fact, he says, smaller doses may be more effective.
Natrol’s Hilton says: “[I]t’s important to understand how melatonin works and when supplementation might be needed. Melatonin is naturally produced in the body to guide our ‘sleep-wake’ cycle. When the sun sets, darkness signals the brain to produce melatonin, telling our body it’s time to sleep. Melatonin levels stay elevated through the night to help keep us asleep. When the sun comes up, the light signals the brain to stop making melatonin, telling our body that it’s time to wake up. Changes in routine, seasonal time changes, and screen time before bed are some of the many things that can interrupt melatonin production and throw us off cycle. Melatonin supplements can help.”
Given all the interest in the sleep category, one might take a minute to wonder how other ingredients within the sleep set are performing. According to SPINS’s 2019 sleep-category numbers, sleep ingredients such as valerian are not seeing nearly the same level of sales that melatonin enjoys. The journal HerbalGram, published by the American Botanical Council (Austin, TX), reported in its latest annual Herb Market Report1 that in 2018, sales of valerian were $17 million in the U.S. mainstream channel and $7 million in the U.S. natural channel. Those aren’t numbers to sneeze at, but they do demonstrate that, by comparison, melatonin is the sleep star by far.
Grandner shares additional thoughts on sleep-support ingredients beyond melatonin, which he says is to date the most well-studied sleep supplement ingredient.
“There are a number of nutrients that have been studied in relation to sleep. Nearly all, though, have very little data to support them. Most nutrients thought to be sleep-promoting have only been studied in mice, or, if there are human studies, these are often small and poorly controlled. Some nutrients, such as chamomile, actually have no real supporting research on effects in humans. Others, such as valerian, have relatively extensive human research, but these studies generally show only weak effects. Some compounds, like L-theanine, have been studied for their calming effects, but very little work has been done evaluating their role as an actual sleep-promoting compound. Currently, the research in this area is very preliminary, and although there are some compounds that have shown promise, there are no clear indications that there are specific nutrients that have strong and reliable effects on sleep.”
The search for sleep aids goes on nevertheless. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that one-third of U.S. adults report not getting the recommended amount of sleep. Moreover, says the CDC, “Not getting enough sleep is linked with many chronic diseases and conditions-such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and depression-that threaten our nation’s health.”2
Andrea Wong, PhD, senior vice president, scientific and regulatory affairs, for the Council for Responsible Nutrition, says, “Lack of sleep is a common issue in the U.S., partially due to the busy lives many Americans are leading. With emerging research and increasing media attention, consumers are recognizing the importance of sleep and risks of not getting enough sleep. Dietary supplements to support relaxation and sleep, along with other healthy behaviors, can improve quality of sleep, thereby enhancing overall wellness.”
CRN’s latest Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements in 2019 shows consumer usage of melatonin is up. In fact, 14% of all dietary supplement users surveyed in 2019 said they take melatonin. Wong reports that “overall, consumer usage of melatonin has increased by six percentage points over the last five years. Melatonin is most popular with supplement users aged 18-34, with 18% of users taking this ingredient in 2019. Usage in this age category has grown by 10 percentage points in the last five years.”
How are melatonin trends shaking out in the consumer products market? Market researcher Innova Market Insights reports that between 2014 and 2018, the global number of dietary supplements, foods, and beverages featuring melatonin grew at a 23.4% CAGR.
As the sleep market grows more sophisticated, a number of trends are happening. CRN’s Wong points to a few trends her association has noticed regarding melatonin supplements: 1) more blended-ingredient products are now incorporating melatonin, and 2) melatonin products are being offered in alternative delivery formats, such as gummies and powders, that expand usage to more users.
Grandner adds his observation: “Some areas where I have seen developments that are encouraging are the formulations of time-release melatonin for use across the night [and] development of lower-dose products that may be more effective.”
We spoke to a couple of companies selling melatonin products to get their insights on where the market is heading.
Natrol has made a name for itself on the melatonin shelf, offering the ingredient in everything from gummies to fast-dissolve tablets that can be taken on the go without water. Like others, the company has found a new customer for melatonin: children. Last March, the company launched Natrol Kids Melatonin gummies and fast-dissolve supplements, especially designed for use in kids.
Children aged four to twelve need 10-12 hours of sleep per night, says Natrol’s Hilton; unfortunately, just like adults, children’s sleep quality is also compromised these days, for reasons including school and extracurricular responsibilities, screen time, as well as social pressures.
“An estimated 75% of school-aged children don’t get enough sleep, mostly due to environmental stimuli like screens, early school times, food sources, and busy schedules,” he says. “While healthy, consistent sleep for kids is one of the most important factors in children’s development, sleep problems are increasing among youth, causing challenges such as poor concentration, irritability, anxiety, and poor school performance.” Also, he points out, and as any parent knows, when children aren’t sleeping well, neither are their parents.
There have been some melatonin studies in children showing melatonin to be a safe, natural, effective, drug-free sleep aid for that population. Natrol specifically highlights a 2015 report3 published in the European Journal of Paediatric Neurology, whose researchers concluded: “No serious safety concerns have been attributed to melatonin use in children.”
And, it’s key to point out that Natrol doesn’t necessarily recommend chronic adolescent melatonin use. “Importantly, Natrol proactively communicates [that] the approach that melatonin for children should be used for [is] occasionally, short term, and in conjunction with good sleep habits like consistent bedtime, regular sleep routine, no screen time 60 minutes before bed, and a quiet, dark, and cool bedroom environment, among others,” says Hilton. “We will also advise to consult a healthcare professional.” He says that pediatricians may recommend melatonin supplementation for children not sleeping well.
The children’s melatonin market is still developing, meaning there is room to grow. “The children’s sleep support category-when considered broadly to include all sleep aids-has been around a long time, but the use of melatonin in kids is newer than [in] adults so we can expect the trajectory of people’s awareness and usage of melatonin for kids to continue with rapid growth in the coming years,” Hilton says.
Other melatonin companies are finding value in doing what CRN’s Wong highlighted above: Creating unique, health-promoting ingredient blends including melatonin. One of those companies is Omega3 Innovations. The company produces Omega Restore, a dietary supplement comprising melatonin, omega-3 fish oil, and vitamin D, sold in travel-friendly, single-use glass vials.
While the supplement isn’t necessarily marketed as a sleep supplement specifically, company cofounder and CEO Bo Martinsen, MD, says, “We are seeing more consumer interest in the product for that reason. Just from 2018 to 2019, we saw Omega Restore sales increase by over 30% online, without significant marketing investments.”
Martinsen says the company chose to combine the ingredients in Omega Restore because “independent studies, as well as [our] own pilot trials, indicate that melatonin and omega-3 have a synergistic effect. Furthermore, research shows that the benefits of melatonin supplementation may depend on consumers having sufficient omega-3 content in their cells.”
Martinsen believes that interest in melatonin won’t end with an interest in sleep alone. “In my opinion, melatonin is more interesting as an anti-inflammatory or anxiolytic supplement than as a sleep regulator. We predict that in the future, melatonin will become part of mainstream cancer and/or peri-operational treatment as its impact on the microbiome becomes more well known.”
Grandner also says that melatonin is increasingly being studied for its anti-inflammatory potential, as well as for heart health.
That’s a look at the possible future for melatonin. As for today, given that our society doesn’t seem likely to begin slowing down any time soon, expect demand for melatonin and natural sleep aids in general to increase. Overall health is a growing goal for many consumers these days, and sleep quality is an important piece of that puzzle. Says Grandner: “Sleep is getting increased recognition in terms of its importance for health, mental well-being, cognitive functioning, and overall quality of life. As people are turning their attention to sleep, they are realizing that we live in a society that has taught us to devalue sleep. As a result, insufficient sleep, poor sleep quality, and sleep disorders are very common.”
For those marketing melatonin, Grandner provides one final caution: “As melatonin becomes more widely available, I have noticed that it has been used in a very wide range of products- many of which seem to make promises that they would be unlikely to deliver, especially based on their dose and delivery of melatonin.” Marketers beware.
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