We live in stressful times.
Whether it be macro forces like economic worries and political changes, or micro forces of day-to-day life like trouble at work, family life, etc., stress-inducing factors are all around us. As Matthew Oster, head of consumer health, Euromonitor International, puts it, “Stress is pervasive simply because modern life doesn't provide easily-attainable or frequent outlets to let people relieve the buildup of ever-accelerating pressures.”
According to the American Psychological Association, 75% of adults surveyed reported experiencing moderate to high levels of stress in the previous month and nearly half reported that their stress has increased in the past year. One-third of adults reported that stress has a “very strong impact” on their physical and mental health. And, as anyone can attest to, increases in stress often come with decreases in sleep—or vice versa.
“Sleep and stress can be viewed as two sides of the same coin,” Oster told Natural Products INSIDER, “and indeed consumers are increasingly viewing sleep deprivation and stress as intrinsically linked.”
That trend—people the world over are more stressed than they’ve ever been—and the link between that stress and lack of quality sleep was the topic of the day at SupplySide West’s “Supporting the Cycle: Solutions to Manage Stress and Improve Sleep” education session in Las Vegas.
In addition to Oster, the following speakers spent the three-hour session discussing consumer data on sleep and stress, the science behind their connection, and trending ingredients being utilized by supplement formulators to increase quality sleep and decrease unhealthy levels of stress:
- Jennifer Cooper, chief science officer, Savant Science;
- Gene Bruno, senior director of product innovation, Twinlab Consolidation Group;
- and Susan J. Hewlings, co-founder, Substantiation Sciences and director of scientific affairs, Nutrasource
Oster presented proprietary data from Euromonitor that painted the same picture: People aren’t getting enough sleep and are seeking out any kind of relief they can. According to Euromonitor’s 2019 Health & Nutrition Survey conducted in 20 countries, one-third of respondents get seven or fewer hours of sleep per night; according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the recommended amount of sleep for adults is at least seven hours. More than 1 in 5 respondents in that 2019 Health & Nutrition Survey also agreed with the statement, “I frequently do not get enough sleep.” Oster also noted that, across nearly all age and nationality cohorts, there is a large gap between the amount of sleep people report they need to feel their best and the amount they typically get.
Consumers also seem keen on fixing their sleep issues, utilizing numerous methods to do so, including seeking advice from doctors, natural supplements, exercise and even phone apps meant to track and improve sleep quality.
Bruno went into great detail on how high levels of stress and poor sleep are intertwined. Noting that stress can lead to myriad health issues from sleep problems to immune health and gastrointestinal (GI) distress, Bruno discussed why in terms of the body’s fight or flight response. To sum up his findings, the brain does a poor job of distinguishing modern sources of stress from the evolutionary need for a fight or flight mechanism.
“Your body doesn’t distinguish between daily life stress and a Saber Tooth tiger,” Bruno remarked. And when the brain senses a source of stress, it essentially turns off functions it wouldn’t need if, say, it was being chased by a predator. Digestive, kidney and immune functions slow, sex hormones stop being produced, and sleep regulation comes to a halt—all helpful in a life-or-death situation, but quite detrimental to daily life.
These effects of stress can accumulate over time as well. When the body is stressed, it produces extra sugar—again, perfect if you need to start running for your life. But for people who have that same level of stress while sitting at a desk at work or school, it means higher levels of fat in the blood and higher prevalence of diabetes due to producing more sugar than they’re working off.
Luckily, consumers aren’t on their own in trying to reverse, or at least manage, stress, poor sleep and the many resulting health issues that come with them. In addition to what Bruno called “stress-friendly foods” such as teas, dark chocolate, berries and more, formulators are utilizing specific dietary ingredients to combat stress and promote healthy sleep habits.
Clinical trials have shown promising results for L-theanine, found in many tea leaves and other botanicals, in promoting stress relief and relaxation1. The adaptogenic herbs rhodiola and ashwagandha have also shown been shown in clinical trials to combat stress2,3. The same goes for saffron4, Apocynum venetum (sword-leaf dogbane)5 and lemon balm extract6.
And, of course, CBD products in all forms are currently being marketed to help improve sleep and decrease stress.
There are also new areas of study looking into the relationship between sleep, stress, and the microbiome.
“Scientific studies have also recently demonstrated the role the gut microbiota has on sleep quality and stress, which holds promise for commercialized probiotics tailored to these needs,” Oster told INSIDER. Given the ever-deepening need for stress and sleep relief, it only makes sense that Oster also predicted the market for sleep and stress support is “likely to be unrecognizable in even just a few years.”
1. Hidese S et al. “Effects of L-Theanine Administration on Stress-Related Symptoms and Cognitive Functions in Healthy Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Nutrition. 2019; 11(10). pii: E2362. DOI: 10.3390/nu11102362.
2. Dinel AL et al. “Reduction of acute mild stress corticosterone response and changes in stress-responsive gene expression in male Balb/c mice after repeated administration of a Rhodiola rosea L. root extract.” Food Sci Nutr. 2019; 7(11):3827-3841. DOI: 10.1002/fsn3.1249
3. Chandrasekhar K, Kapoor J, Anishetty S. “A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults.” Indian J Psychol Med. 2012; 34(3):255-62. DOI: 10.4103/0253-7176.106022.
4. Pitsikas N. “Constituents of Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) as Potential Candidates for the Treatment of Anxiety Disorders and Schizophrenia.” Molecules. 2016; 21(3):303. DOI: 10.3390/molecules21030303.
5. Wu T et al. “Apocynum venetum Leaf Extract Exerts Antidepressant-Like Effects and Inhibits Hippocampal and Cortical Apoptosis of Rats Exposed to Chronic Unpredictable Mild Stress.” Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2018; 2018:5916451. DOI: 10.1155/2018/5916451.
6. Scholey A et al. “Anti-stress effects of lemon balm-containing foods.” Nutrients. 2014; 6(11):4805-21. DOI: 10.3390/nu6114805.