Stress and sleep—or rather, lack of sleep—typically go hand in hand; the more stressed an individual is, the more likely they will have a difficult time falling asleep and/or getting quality sleep. From there, the lack of a good night’s rest leads to lower vitality to tackle the upcoming day’s stressors.
It can develop into a vicious cycle, and one felt by a lot of Americans as busier, on-the-go lifestyles became the norm. Americans experience stress and sleep issues more than the global average. A 2019 Gallup article noted 55% of Americans said they experience stress “during a lot of the day,” which is 20 percentage points higher than the world average of 35%.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA) 2019 Stress in America survey, more than three-fourths of adults reported physical or emotional symptoms of stress, such as headache, feeling tired or changes in sleeping habits, with nearly 50% having laid awake at night because of stress in the prior month—and this was before the pandemic.
Now people are dealing with issues such as illness and isolation, no work or too much exposure to heartbreaking work, a change to individual routine and a change to society as whole. Entire lives have been upended, with the pandemic only exacerbating the issues Americans normally face, quickly turning that largely ignored surface scratch into a gaping wound in need of attention.
In the APA data, 78% of adults reported the coronavirus pandemic is a significant source of stress in their lives, with 67% having experienced increased stress over the course of the pandemic. The rise in stress has resulted in decreased sleep, so much so that the term “coronasomnia” was coined. It has also resulted in individuals being more proactive about finding solutions that fit them. Interestingly, some of the solutions to these modern problems are actually centuries old, such as meditation and the use of medicinal herbs. Fortunately, the stress and sleep categories were already in the new product pipeline—or at least on the radar—of a lot of dietary supplement and food and beverage brands before 2020. The pandemic simply accelerated their timelines.
When it comes to naturally combating stress and sleeplessness, two types of ingredients have especially caught the attention of consumers: adaptogens and flowers. Adaptogens—traditional tonics or rejuvenators known to enable the body to adapt to physical, mental and emotional stress—are commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and ayurveda.
Although adaptogens have yet to achieve mainstream use, they have great potential to grow, especially as data from Mintel cited in an IFT article noted an estimated 25% of consumers interested in trying an adaptogen have not yet done so. The sudden spike of stress brought on by the coronavirus may be the impetus to take adaptogens beyond consumer interest and into action.
Withania somnifera (ashwagandha), in particular, has been finding its way into de-stressing applications. Studies of ashwagandha have concluded its intervention resulted in greater score improvements than placebo in outcomes on anxiety or stress scales (J Altern Complement Med. 2014;20:901-908). Even its species name (somnifera), which means “sleep inducer” in Latin, refers to ashwagandha’s sedative effects.
Another adaptogen gaining popularity is Ocimum tenuiflorum (also known as tulsi or holy basil). Studies suggest the botanical is a safe herbal intervention that may assist in dealing with psychological and immunological stress (J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. 2017;2017:9217567).
As for sleep, floral ingredients are the breakout stars in this category. Flowers may be best known as decorative pieces, dating all the way back to ancient Egypt, but they were also used medicinally for just as long. With their distinct and delightful aroma (and flavor profile, for some), floral ingredients are finding their way into applications beyond aromatherapy and beauty/personal care. According to findings from Innova Market Insights (Global, 2018 vs. 2016), the number of product launches with floral flavors doubled from 2016 to 2018. Though they first appeared in food and beverage for flavor, they have recently gained a reputation as natural calming and sleeping aids—and even more so since the pandemic.
If floral ingredients are the breakout stars, then lavender is currently in the spotlight. The internal use of lavender flower (as tea infusion, extract or bath additive) is currently approved by the German Commission E for restlessness or insomnia, nervous stomach irritations, and nervous intestinal discomfort, per the American Botanical Council (ABC).
Another floral ingredient for sleep is chamomile—which although fairly well-established, is still gaining popularity. ABC noted the British Herbal Compendium lists chamomile for internal use for spasms or inflammatory conditions of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, peptic ulcers and mild sleep disorders.
The pandemic has permanently changed the world, even down to the monotonous details of life, such as sleep patterns. It has brought unexpected stresses, especially when it comes to questions about the future. During times of uncertainly, it is not surprising that consumers are turning to tried-and-true solutions.
Rikka Cornelia is the product manager for Martin Bauer. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Irvine.