Most of us have tried a Sleepytime tea or a cosy mug of hot cocoa with milk to get a good night’s sleep, but what if we told you that snacks and drinks that help us sleep are about to experience their moment in the night light? As functional foods like hemp seeds and kefir take off, we’re predicting a raft of new night time foods and snacks will create a new category that we call night time nutrition, ready to serve the growing market of the exhausted and sleep-deprived.

Pre-pandemic, 25% of Australians were reporting poor-quality sleep with that number recently soaring to 46% with pandemic stress, anxiety and increased alcohol consumption all playing a part. It’s well known that sleep is a pillar of good health and crucial for a strong immune system, and data is mounting to suggest that certain nutrients, dietary patterns and foods can improve sleep quality. A light bedtime snack has been shown to have positive physiological benefits as well.

Take American food company Good Source Foods, who are tailoring their snack products to be eaten at a certain time of day with names like “Afternoon Boost” and “Evening Calm”. Their night-time product includes dried cherries as the key ingredient, a natural source of melatonin.

The key nutrients and hormones in foods and drinks that promote sleep and relaxation include:

B vitamins – studies have shown that deficiencies in some B vitamins may affect sleep due to their involvement in the production of melatonin. This means eating enough natural or enriched foods high in B vitamins such as wholegrains or supplementation could help to improve sleep.

Antioxidants (Vitamin E and C) – suggested to affect sleep as it’s been found that people with high antioxidant levels have better quality sleep. However, supplementation might only help if there is a dietary deficiency. There are also plenty of ways to increase antioxidant intake from food, for example including plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Magnesium and zinc – the evidence for magnesium and zinc is scarce as most studies have been performed in animals, however some studies have suggested this combination has helped people with insomnia. Supplementation may help if you’re not getting enough zinc and magnesium, however magnesium deficiency is rare in the population. Rich food sources of zinc include red meat, wholegrains and seafood.

Melatonin – the most widely studied and well-known supplement that promotes sleep, and foods that promote production of melatonin have been studied extensively as a result. Tart cherries are the most well-studied natural source of melatonin, however nuts like almonds and walnuts are also rich in melatonin.

Tryptophan – other dietary interventions to promote sleep are based around increasing tryptophan intake, whether that be through protein foods high in tryptophan such as dairy milk, pumpkin seeds and turkey or through consuming carbohydrates that boost tryptophan levels. All carbohydrates increase tryptophan availability, but it’s best to choose carbohydrate foods that provide fibre as well such as wholegrains, fruit and legumes.

What’s in the market?

We’ve already seen a rise in innovative functional foods, with a lot of innovation coming from overseas. Some interesting examples include:

  • Peak Chocolate’s Rest variety relies on a combination of ZMA (zinc, magnesium and vitamin B6) as well as tryptophan as their key sleep ingredients.
  • True Protein’s ZMA variety also promotes sleep while enhancing recovery using the same triple combination of zinc, magnesium and B6; a double whammy for any athlete who no doubt needs a good night’s sleep.
  • GoodNight’s before-bed snacks take advantage of tart cherries as well as magnesium and look to replace a before-bed snack of confectionary with a healthier alternative.

The real challenge with new categories like night time nutrition is that the more entrants rush to enter the category, the more they might exaggerate claims that risk relegating their shiny new snack ideas into the fad category. Here at Appetite Communications, we believe that credible and clear claims help grow a category and maximise its potential to take off.

Just this April, two general-level health claims have been notified to FSANZ in Australia:

  1. Tart Cherry – “contributes to healthy sleep/ sleep patterns/ sleep quality”
  2. Chamomile – “contributes to healthy sleep/ sleep patterns/ sleep quality”

Both these foods also have the claim “healthy nervous system relaxation” approved, which means we may see this claim popping up as well and are likely to see sleep and relaxation linked on pack.

Some examples of night time nutrient content claims that are approved are outlined below.

B Vitamin Sleep-linked nutrient content claim: Contributes to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue (vitamins B6, B12, B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B2 (riboflavin), B9 (folate))

Antioxidant Sleep-linked nutrient content claim: Contributes to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue (vitamin C)

Magnesium Sleep-linked nutrient content claim: Contributes to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue (magnesium)

Clearly, this area is ripe for innovation to develop more evidence-based claims through good quality research on functional ingredients, foods and drinks to calm, not stimulate at night. With sleep as one of the three pillars to good health, including immune health – along with nutrition and physical activity – we believe that functional night time nutrition foods could become more popular than supplements like Valerian to improve sleep … but only if they don’t start dreaming up unrealistic claims.

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