There’s so much yet to come in the burgeoning sleep supplements market. In many ways, the category is just beginning.
COVID-19 robbed us of many of the things we love. Sleep is one of them.
“The American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that Americans continue to report sleeping problems since the start of the pandemic, and the increase in stress levels can attribute to this growing sense of restlessness,” says Hanan Wajih, chief marketing officer for supplements brand Natrol.
Though the pandemic exacerbated the problem, struggles with sleep aren’t new. Graham Sorkin, chief of staff at The Functional Chocolate Company, cites a 2018 Consumer Reports survey1 that found 80% of Americans even back then reporting trouble sleeping at least once a week.
The problem hasn’t gotten better. A November 2021 survey2 of 2000 U.S. adults sponsored by supplements brand Life Extension found that while 91% of Americans surveyed believe sleep is important to health, 59% said they feel tired most of the time.
Sleep support products are in high demand these days. “Consumers continue to seek out natural sleep solutions, maintaining the momentum in sales from 2020,” says Wajih, adding, “Through 2021, consumers have continued to focus on health and wellness habits, including sleep regimens. Consumers are purchasing pillows, sleep masks, trying sleep apps, and experimenting with sleep supplements as part of a multistep sleep solution customized to their needs.”
Sleep is now viewed as integral to total health. “Overall, health and wellness have been more top of mind than ever before, and there is a growing interest in taking a holistic approach to health,” says Susan Mitmesser, PhD, sleep expert and vice president of science and technology for Pharmavite LLC, and a member of Nutritional Outlook’s Editorial Advisory Board. For instance, she says, “The increased interest in immune support over the last 18 months is not surprising, but what we may not have anticipated is how it has led to a greater understanding of how interconnected immunity is to our stress levels and quality of sleep. We know that sleep is key in terms of day-to-day function, but it’s an essential part of the body’s healing process and immune response to infections. Managing your stress allows you to have more productive sleep, which gives your body the time needed to restore. Given that sleep issues affect 50-70 million Americans during the best of times, it’s not surprising that sleep has quickly become a key focal point for personal health.”
Pharmavite and its flagship brand Nature Made dug into consumer insights around sleep in 2021. “We learned more about what the consumer is looking for by conducting Nature Made’s ‘United States of Wellness Survey,’” Mitmesser says. “The survey showed that sleep issues are at the forefront of many Americans’ minds, with 50% considering improved sleep as their top mental health goal of 2021. The repercussions of poor sleep affect other aspects of one’s life as well. Nearly 40% of those polled reported that their sleep issues are negatively affecting their personal lives, and 30% indicated that it is interfering with their professional lives. This shows that consumers are more in tune with their bodies and more well educated on how sleep impacts their quality of life overall.”
Younger consumers are prioritizing sleep and looking for help as well. Wajih at Natrol reports, “We’re seeing the VMS [vitamins, minerals, and supplements] category really resonate with the younger health-and-beauty-conscious generations. More and more people are interacting with sleep support products on social media and highlighting their wellness routines to their peer groups—notably, Gen Z and Millennials, with 48% of this group reporting using VMS for ‘self-care.’”
With more consumers seeking natural alternatives, sleep supplements, foods, and beverages may have a leg up on pharmaceuticals. As Sorkin points out, again citing Consumer Reports data3, that of the 80% of Americans who in 2018 reported trouble sleeping at least once a week, “31% of those use a sleep aid or medication.” However, “Nearly 6 out of 10 people taking sleep medications reported side effects such as feeling drowsy, confused, or forgetful the next day,”4 he notes.
“Seeing statistics like this,” Sorkin continues, “it seemed obvious that we should offer a better, safer, side effect–free option for those sleepless nights.”
Indeed, consumers are turning to sleep supplements and natural products in droves. The Life Extension survey2 found that 82% of U.S. consumers polled said they are interested in vitamins and supplements that can improve quality of sleep. At Natrol, Wajih says, “We’ve experienced increased demand for sleep products across all retail outlets, including brick-and-mortar, and online. The pandemic has propelled consumer VMS use up nearly 20%.”
Francis Lau, PhD, FACN, director of science and regulatory for supplements brand OLLY, told Nutritional Outlook in December 2021, “Consumers are increasingly looking for sleep aids to help them battle ‘corona-somnia’ (insomnia caused by the pandemic). In particular, the sleep category has grown 29%, or $1.1 billion, in the latest 52 weeks.”
These reports are also supported by a recent analysis5 by retail analytics provider ClearCut Analytics (Chicago), which looked at sleep and stress supplements specifically sold on Amazon.com. As ClearCut notes, “To better understand consumer preferences, ecommerce insights—particularly from Amazon—are where brands, retailers, and suppliers should first turn for a sneak peek into what’s trending and how to successfully innovate.”
ClearCut says sales of stress and sleep support supplements are growing rapidly online, noting that the two conditions go hand in hand. “As of September 2021, sales of stress relief and sleep support supplements grew by 31% and 55% year-over-year (YoY), respectively, on Amazon. While gains are partially due to the COVID-19 pandemic pushing consumers to ecommerce, it’s also clear that consumers are still spending more online than they did prior to the pandemic and will likely continue to do so.”
There are more than 240 brands of sleep support supplements sold on Amazon, led by companies like Natrol, OLLY, Carlyle Nutritionals, Zarbee’s Naturals, and Vicks ZzzQuil. ClearCut further states: “While the top 10 brands make up over 50% of the subcategory market share, there is still room for new brands and current brands to grow and compete. For example, in this past year, the subcategory has seen the number of brands generating over $1 million in annual sales go from 34 to 42.”
ClearCut offers this advice: “Stress support and sleep aid products undoubtedly have the opportunity to connect with more customers than ever before. However, to succeed, products must cater to evolving and increasingly savvy consumer demands.”
One of those demands is products that address not only sleep but also concerns related to sleep health. “We are seeing more multifunction supplements hitting the shelves,” says Haleigh Resetar, corporate communications specialist at SPINS LLC (Chicago). “The addition of elderberry to sleep supplements is a good example of this trend, especially considering the recent pandemic when consumers were searching for immunity-boosting supplements.”
Supplement brands are seeing the same trend. “Products with dual health benefits will continue to drive consumer interest,” agrees OLLY’s Lau. “For example, OLLY recently launched Muscle Recovery Sleep, which helps consumers have a good night’s sleep and also helps ease muscle soreness due to extraneous exercise.”
Wajih at Natrol points out that multipurpose products especially attract first-time supplement users who may be less knowledgeable about individual ingredients, who may prefer shopping for an overall health need, and who may find multifunctional products more convenient to take.
“Through various consumer research at Natrol, a consistent theme we found was that new users to the VMS category are often interested in simple solutions that address multiple wellness benefits,” she says. “This research inspired our innovative Natrol Sleep+ line—a drug-free sleep aid that blends melatonin and secondary ingredients to support immune health, feelings of calm, and beauty benefits.”
By offering multifunctional sleep products and traditional single-ingredient supplements, companies can ensure they are meeting the needs of all shoppers. “With the rising interest in health and wellness, sleep is a concern for all generations,” Wajih says. “We’re continuing to innovate products that welcome new consumers with a convenient ‘all-in-one’ gummy, like our Sleep+ line that promotes the benefit of the product, while providing legacy users with products that are ingredient-focused and target a single purpose, like our melatonin products or vitamin supplements.”
In this way, it’s all about personalization, says Pharmavite’s Mitmesser, a theme sweeping the entire supplements and nutrition market. “At this moment, the focus is on personalization and curation. As consumers start to think more holistically about their health, we’re looking at how we can curate ingredients to deliver support for their particular needs,” she says. “Our recently expanded sleep portfolio is a great example of that. Not only are we offering solutions that support a more complete range of sleep issues through a variety of forms and flavors, but we’re also bringing different ingredients together to do multiple jobs. Our Sleep & Beauty gummies combine melatonin to help you naturally fall asleep faster with biotin, which may help support healthy hair, skin, and nails, along with hydrolyzed collagen, vitamin C, vitamin A, and vitamin E.”
Designing sleep products for specific customers also lets them know the product is just for them, raising the likelihood they’ll buy. Last summer, sports nutrition brand TB12 launched a sleep supplement for athletes called TB12 Sleep containing ingredients like L-theanine, chamomile, GABA, magnesium, and melatonin.
“We launched the TB12 Sleep Supplement in August 2021,” says Lauren Blanda, vice president, product and marketing, for the company. “As a brand hyper-focused on recovery, we’re constantly promoting and educating on the role of proper sleep in our recovery equation. Over the last year, we kept hearing from our clients and customers how the pandemic has made it increasingly difficult to maintain a consistent sleep routine. Between our emphasis on the importance of sleep with regard to recovery and the needs of our customers, we felt this was the ideal time to release our proprietary sleep formula.”
Blanda adds, “While we never want to say sleep is more important for one group of people than another, there’s no denying the significance of sleep in an athlete’s performance. Whether you’re a professional athlete, or simply looking to stay fit, sleep accelerates the critical process of healing and recovery, allowing you to perform pain-free.” For athletes, Blanda continues, “A good sleep product easily integrates with an athlete’s lifestyle and supports several aspects of recovery. The formula includes natural, science-backed ingredients; promotes physical and mental healing; and doesn’t leave you feeling drowsy the following day. These are all attributes we incorporated in TB12 Sleep.”
Another way to accommodate customers is with delivery system. People want to take their supplements in different ways, and companies are working hard to make sure there’s something for everyone.
Natrol’s Wajih reports, “Among Natrol Melatonin formulas for adults and kids, gummies continue to grow as a popular format. Gummies offer convenience and great taste. They are also non-GMO, gluten-free, gelatin free, and have no artificial sweeteners, synthetic dyes, or preservatives—product attributes consumers are favoring as healthy living continues to be a priority.”
ClearCut reports that on Amazon.com, “Gummies hold the greatest market share in the sleep support subcategory, with 29% [market share], and also grew the fastest, [at a rate of] 66% YoY. Chewables are another delivery form to watch that only hold 4% market share but are growing at a similar pace to gummies, at 64% YoY.” Between those bookends, there are tablets (at 28% market share and 53% growth), capsules (at 23% market share and 44% growth), and liquid supplements (with 7% market share and 51% growth).
Don’t rule out the promise of functional foods and beverages, either.
Last June, The Functional Chocolate Company launched its Sleepy Chocolate bar containing ingredients like chamomile, valerian, lavender, lemon balm, magnesium, and melatonin. Says Sorkin: “Nighttime teas are commonly used by people of all ages all over the world, in addition to more traditional pills and tinctures. However, other food/drink options for sleep support are still few and far between. We believe that consumers generally prefer chocolate over many other traditional delivery mechanisms for nearly any condition. The reception of this product proves that out. Unsurprisingly, in the weeks after launch, Sleepy Chocolate quickly became one of our top-selling products.”
He adds: “Chocolate offers numerous benefits both as a functional food and as a delivery mechanism for other ingredients. Even without the inclusion of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and botanicals, chocolate is already a functional food loaded with flavanols, antioxidants, and minerals such as magnesium, an ingredient that has been studied extensively as a sleep aid. The naturally occurring healthy fats in chocolate act as a carrier that may improve bioavailability of the functional ingredients that we add. Further, while chocolate is being chewed, the brain has an opportunity to alert the digestive system to prepare for nutrients, which further improves potential bioavailability. Finally, many of us enjoy a small treat to wrap up our day and prepare for bedtime, so chocolate that serves as both an indulgence and a delivery format for trusted sleep aids just makes sense.”
If consumers like taking your product, they’re more likely to stick with it as a long-term solution, Lau points out. “At OLLY, we strive to make vitamins and supplements that are delightful so that people enjoy taking them and are more likely to add them to their routine. For every product we make, we think about taste, texture, size, and anything else that impacts the experience of taking the product. Our goal is to make people’s lives better and support them in their wellbeing.”
But also, Pharmavite’s Mitmesser adds, “While consumers tend to have preferences in the form their vitamins take, when it comes to sleep support, consumers are looking for what will best support their particular issue. For example, Nature Made’s Extended-Release Melatonin is a specially formulated tablet that contains 4 mg melatonin in two different layers to help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. For a consumer who has trouble falling and staying asleep, the support this product provides is more important than the form it comes in.”
How is growing demand for sleep support products benefiting the sleep supplements ingredients market? Incredibly. To start with, look at overall ingredient sales in the U.S. sleep supplements category last year, in both the mainstream and natural channels. Per SPINS multioutlet channel tracking, powered by IRI, U.S. mainstream sleep supplement ingredient sales grew a significant 31% in the year ending October 31, 2021, reaching $762 million compared to $584 million a year ago. Per SPINS natural enhanced channel tracking, natural sleep supplement ingredient sales in the U.S. grew 11% in the year ending October 31, 2021, reaching $33 million compared to $30 million a year ago.
Melatonin remains, far and away, the category leader—with growth showing no signs of stopping. In the mainstream sleep ingredients market alone, melatonin sales grew a significant 31% last year, reaching $698 million compared to $531 million a year ago. By comparison, other ingredients in the mainstream sleep channel command much less market share, with valerian and L-theanine, for instance, each bringing in about $6 million in mainstream sales last year. In the natural sleep ingredients market as well, melatonin is the frontrunner, with sales growing 12% last year, reaching $14 million.
Even outside of the sleep market, melatonin is an ingredient superstar, period. Melatonin ranks on SPINS’s list of top-25 bestselling functional ingredients in both the U.S. multioutlet and natural enhanced channels. In the multioutlet channel, melatonin now ranks as the #5 top-selling mainstream functional ingredient, growing 28% in the year ending October 31, 2021, with sales reaching more than $728 million compared to $570 million a year ago. In the natural enhanced channel, melatonin came in at #24 on the list of top-selling functional ingredients, growing 11% to over $15 million in the year ending October 31, 2021.
What continues to drive melatonin’s incredibly strong market position?
“I think there’s a lot to unpack there,” says Scott Dicker, senior market insights analyst for SPINS. “One of the reasons that it’s been so far and above other ingredients is that it’s pretty proven to work. It’s been studied. It’s kind of that gold standard of sleep products. When you have a product that’s been so researched and been around for a while, it’s hard to say that something’s going to really overtake it. I think of it the same way I look at sports nutrition ingredients. Everyone’s been looking for years and years [at] what’s the next creatine, right? But creatine works. Caffeine in products works. So those tend to continue to [see] growth.”
“I do not foresee any time in the near future another ingredient overtaking melatonin,” he continues. Due to “its widespread acceptance as a product…melatonin is going to [be] the standard-bearer for sleep supplements for a while.”
In the supplements market, which saw new users entering the market in droves during the pandemic, it’s likely those first-time users searching for sleep support products turned first to the ingredient they knew off the bat. Says Dicker: “They’re more likely to have heard of melatonin than any other sleep ingredient, right? It’s also probably the thing that comes up most in their online searches when they look for supplements that help with sleep. It’s probably the thing that’s in the retailers’ sleep support section the most. I think all those things play a role, but mostly it’s the new customers, and their first introduction is often going to be the most popular ingredient.”
Natrol saw increased melatonin sales in 2021. “Melatonin is a staple and will continue to be a go-to option,” Wajih says. “It’s a naturally occurring hormone that our body produces, making it a more well-known and trusted sleep supplement on the market. Natrol Melatonin products are effective, 100% drug-free, non-habit-forming, and are safe to take for helping with occasional sleeplessness. Consumers have also been loving our new Sleep+ Calm gummies which include a powerful blend of melatonin, chamomile, lavender, lemon balm, and L-theanine, which help calm the mind and body and ease you to sleep.”
Mitmesser says those other ingredients are playing a larger role in sleep formulas at Pharmavite, too. “Melatonin has long been a popular and well-known ingredient to support sleep and is featured in many Nature Made sleep products. However, as we continue to learn more about the sleep cycle, we’ve seen an uptick in products including ingredients like GABA and L-theanine,” she says.
Part of that uptick is due to growing research showing these complementary ingredients’ additional benefits when included in a sleep product, Mitmesser explains. “Largely driven by melatonin, the sleep category has historically been focused on helping people get to sleep. What we’ve learned is that sleep issues are more nuanced than that, and the solutions need to better address these specific issues by offering a combination of ingredients that work in tandem to support a specific outcome. For people who struggle with racing thoughts keeping them from sleep, the combination of L-theanine, clinically shown to help relax the mind to help people to fall asleep, [and] GABA, shown to help support a calm and relaxed mental state, [is effective].”
“There are many ingredients that contribute to helping get a better night’s sleep, but thus far there is no single drug-free ingredient that has shown to be as effective as melatonin at helping people sleep better,” Wajih agrees. “That being said, there are a number of sleep-supporting ingredients that are showing promise, especially when combined at the right levels, and address not just sleep directly but also those that support preparing the mind and body for sleep, [including] passion flower, magnesium, L-theanine, ashwagandha, GABA, valerian root, and more. One newer ingredient that is showing a lot of promise is saffron. We know this ingredient from Middle Eastern, Persian, and North African cooking, but it also has a meaningful impact on mood and the body’s ability to relax.”
Many of these non-melatonin ingredients saw growth in the U.S. sleep supplements ingredients category last year, per SPINS tracking. For instance, in the U.S. mainstream sleep ingredients channel, in the year ending October 31, 2021, L-theanine sales grew 180% (reaching almost $6 million), chamomile grew 90% (reaching $3 million), lemon balm grew almost 1000% (reaching almost $3 million), magnesium grew almost 100% (reaching almost $2 million), and 5-HTP sales grew 7% (reaching almost $2 million). In the mainstream channel, valerian and ivy leaf were the only two ingredients to see some decline.
In the U.S. natural sleep ingredients channel, non-melatonin ingredients showing growth in the year ending October 31, 2021, were magnesium, flower essences, passion flower, ashwagandha, and lemon balm. (Valerian, homeopathic remedies, and amino acids saw some declines.)
Two standouts showing growth in the sleep market are elderberry and cannabidiol (CBD). Elderberry sales grew nearly 1400% in the mainstream sleep ingredients category (to almost $5 million), again perhaps due to some of those sleep–immune health combo products. And in the natural sleep ingredients channel, CBD sales grew 31% to over $4 million.
Regarding CBD, says SPINS’s Resetar, “When CBD was first introduced, it was marketed for stress relief and relaxation, and one of the most common times of day that people are trying to achieve both or either of these sensations is when preparing to go to sleep. This common correlation, along with several research studies, found that CBD, when consumed in the correct dosage, can help manage some of the most common sleep disorders such as insomnia.”
Adds SPINS’s Dicker, “As brands and consumers make this connection between sleep support and relaxation and stress relief, I think you’re going to start to see more and more crossover, both in the marketing claims but also in the ingredients that are being used. And so, if CBD had a good run, of course, and continues to have a big slice of that stress-relief health focus and use case, we are seeing [CBD companies], like every other ingredient and brand, looking for other ways to utilize their ingredient, and I think sleep support is a natural transition that overlaps…I imagine that we’re going to see CBD included in many more sleep formulas that might also include melatonin, so I think that overlapping approach is going to be something that we’re going to see a lot of brands doing in the future.” Combining CBD with other sleep-supporting ingredients also lets CBD companies make product claims that they might not be able to currently make for CBD alone.
With all this going for it, prospects for the sleep category look good in 2022. Ingredient suppliers will continue studying the sleep benefits of a wide range of new and existing ingredients, and supplement brands will continue innovating new products.
“Yes, growth in the sleep category seems to be continuing into 2022 as consumers continue to prioritize their health and wellness, with sleep as a focus,” Wajih says. “Sleep is very important to overall health, and we’ve seen consumers start to prioritize it high on their list of wellbeing. Brands that focus on high-quality ingredients, formulations, and delivering the right benefits will stand out to consumers.
“Consumers are seeking advanced, multi-ingredient products,” says ClearCut. “While melatonin continues to be a sought-after ingredient for sleep support, with 58% YoY growth, the market is also seeing more multi-ingredient products emerge, or ‘sleep complexes.’ Product makers are putting careful thought into their formulations as savvy consumers actively seek out clinically backed ingredients for supporting calm and restful sleep.”
Continued investment in science to determine which ingredients work is the key. Says Pharmavite’s Mitmesser, “While our job is to be at the intersection of where consumer trends and science meet, it’s also just as important to continue expanding our understanding of the potential benefits nutrients may have on human health and discovering the potential benefits of nutrients we don’t know exist yet.”
In other words, stay tuned for continued innovation and discovery in the sleep-support space.