Sleep Innovation: The New Rules

The sleep category is growing rapidly.

Sleep, or more pertinently, the lack thereof, is increasingly an issue for more and more people. Levels of anxiety, stress and insomnia are on the rise. Consumers are looking for solutions, and willing to spend money on them. 30% of the UK and US population report symptoms of insomnia (The GoodBody, Aviva). The Global Sleep Aids Market was valued at $49,543 million in 2016 and is estimated to reach $79,851 million by 2022 (Allied Market Research).

Traditionally the market has been dominated by supplements and OTC drugs and there has been little innovation in the category. Sleep products have looked the same, felt the same and promised the same thing for years.

Such a rapidly growing category is ripe for innovation and a huge opportunity for brands.

Now is the perfect time for your brand to get a slice of the sleep category. But how?


It’s time to throw out the old “innovating in sleep” rulebook and start writing the new category playbook…


Product Format / Pack Structure


Up until recently, sleep aids came almost exclusively in the form of supplement tablets in jars or cardboard packs.

jar of restful sleep supplements and box of unisom sleep gel tablets
Image Source: Restful Sleep & Unisom


Now, driven in part by the functional food and beverage trend, we’re seeing sleep aid drinks, in slimline cans, cartons and shot bottles, ice cream in tubs and even sleep snack bars.

3 x cartons of sleep well milk drink, a shot bottle of rebloom sleep drink and a bar of nightfood's midnight chocolate crunch
Image Source: Sleep Well, Rebloom & Nightfood

Naming / Product Descriptors


The category norm doesn’t employ a huge amount of imagination. Products “do what they say on the tin” for instance, ZzzQuil’s “Pure Zzzs”, or “natural sleep aid”

Jar of ZzzQuil Pure Zzz's supplements and a bottle and box of Physician's choice sleep aid tablets
Image Source: ZzzQuil & Physician’s Choice


Foodie & Playful – as the category moves more into edibles and potables, product descriptors are inevitably more foodie. Not so predictable is the playful ToV that’s being used. Moon Juice’s “edible rest” and All Natural’s “Berry Sleepy” are perfect examples.

2 x sachet's of Moon Juice's Dream Dust and a jar of All Natural's Berry Sleepy
Image Source: Moon Juice & All Natural

Emotional versus Functional – brands, such as Altrufuel and goodnight are using much more emotional language like “Drink’n’Dream”, “relaxing”, “chill” and “unwind” over the purely functional “sleep”.

a jar of altrufuel CBD sleep supplement abd a can of goodnight Drink'N'Dream
Image Source: atrufuel & goodnight

Functional – other brands are using sciencey sounding language to talk about their products, like “everyday optimal” and “sleep formula”. This approach to efficacy claims may seem like old hat, but in this category, it’s rather new.


Visual Positioning


There is only one visual positioning for the sleep category. It’s purple and blue, it’s calm, there are moons and stars, maybe a sprig or two of lavender. And the positioning is the same for drug-based and drug-free supplements.

a box of sleep-eze supplements and a jar of Serenity sleep supplements
Image Source: Sleep-eze & Serenity


Minimal contemporary – The category was first stirred out of its reverie by This Works’ pillow spray. The boxes were clean, minimal, modern, chic even. Although, still blue. Other brands have since adopted this minimal, urban cool positioning. Som drinks and Organic Olivia’s Sleep Juice are prime examples.

Bottle of sleep juice, a pack of this works pillow spray and a can of som sleep drink
Image Source: Organic Olivia, This Works & Som

Fun – Nightfood, with their every-colour packs, childlike monster illustrations and fun fonts, are almost unrecognisable as sleep products. Completely changing up the calm, sleepy visual positioning for a fun, cheeky look, the sleep message is conveyed through the naming.

8 tubs of Nightfood ice cream, different varieties and colours
Image Source: Nightfood

Sciencey – equally as unrecognisable are the brands like Neuro drinks and Dr. Barbara Sturm. Neuro drinks could sit quite easily in the sports nutrition aisle, with its bright colours and bold, block fonts. Dr. Barbara Sturm on the other hand uses futuristic lettering and molecular imagery to convey science and efficacy.

bottle of orange Neuro drink "sleep" and a jar of dr. barbara strum sleep food
Image Source: Neuro Drinks & Dr. Barbra Sturm


RTBs / Ingredients


We all know lavender and camomile help you sleep, and a quick look at the sleep aid shelf in the chemist will give you a tried and tested recipe for a successful sleep innovation… valerian root, passionflower, hops, lemon balm, etc. Or, for your OTC sleep aid, some melatonin and lavender should do the trick.

pack of Twinings leep tea, clipper sleep tea and a jar of CVS sleep supplements
Image Source: Twinings, CVS & Clipper


CBD – CBD is a hot topic right now and the sleep category could be huge market for CBD products. Everyday Optimal and Hemp Bombs, among others, are capitalising on the ingredient’s well-known relaxing qualities.

jar of Everyday Optimal CBD supplement and a pack of Hemp Bombs CBD gummies
Image Source: Everyday Optimal & Hemp Bombs

Reishi mushroomsFour Sigmatic, the mushroom-based functional beverage brand, have even created a hot cacao sleep drink with the calming reishi mushroom as the star of the show.

a box of Four Sigmatic Mushroom Hot Cacao mix
Image Source: Four Sigmatic


So, how can your brand innovate in the sleep category and win a piece of this growing market?

Harness the power of an innovative new ingredient.

Consumers have heard it all before with lavender blah, blah, blah. So, give them something new! CBD and resihi mushrooms are just the beginning. There is a wealth of food ingredients that promote sleep which could be the star ingredient for your brand’s sleep innovation.

Forget the sleepy category visual positioning.

The vast majority of the category looks the same, so tap into a visual positioning that will give your brand instant stand out.

Don’t bore your potential customer with functional names. Engage them with emotional product descriptors or convince them with sciencey sounding language.

“Sleep” should be a given. Speak to their emotions with words like “relaxing, calming, unwind, chill”. Or, do like Dr. Barbara Sturm and Neuro drinks and go with the science.

Think outside the supplement jar.

If Nightfood can do sleep ice cream and sleep snack bars, then what can’t you do? Blow the category doors off, why don’t you?



Talk to us to find out how your brand could own the next sleep innovation.