Sleep well: Interest in sleep support products gaining traction in APAC but firms cite marketing challenges

By Guan Yu Lim

- Last updated on GMT

Products that claim to promote sleep, reduce anxiety and encourage relaxation are not new, with sleep deprivation a common issue faced by countries around the world. ©Getty Images
Products that claim to promote sleep, reduce anxiety and encourage relaxation are not new, with sleep deprivation a common issue faced by countries around the world. ©Getty Images

Related tags Sleep Ezaki Glico Artemis APAC

Interest in functional foods and nutraceuticals targeted for sleep support is gaining traction in Asia-Pacific, but some firms have cited challenges in marketing these products.

According to a global survey by Royal Philips, in 2020, adults in APAC average 7.2 hours of sleep per night, and almost half (41%) are not satisfied with their sleep quality. The recommended amount of sleep for a healthy adult is 7 to 9 hours.

So, people are now turning to supplements, meditation, online resources, and telehealth to get better sleep.

NutraIngredients-Asia​ spoke to three companies producing a range of dairy, confectionery and liquid formulations to aid with sleep, and their journey to get there.

Sleep deprived

Since 2005, Japanese confectionery giant Ezaki Glico has produced a range of chocolate​ products containing gamma amino butyric acid (GABA). Sold under the Mental Balance Chocolate GABA brand, these chocolates carry a food with function claim (FFC) claiming to ease stress and support relaxation. In 2019, it released a chocolate specifically to support sleep.


According to Yuko Yamagami, from the chocolate and biscuit marketing department at Ezaki Glico, interest in sleep is gaining attention around the world, especially in Japan and China which are some of the world’s most sleep deprived countries.

In Japan, there is a growing awareness to improve work efficiency and the Japanese government is working to eliminate long working hours​.”

For New Zealand’s botanical and natural health brand Artemis, sleep disturbances are a common concern which had been further accelerated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Dr Sandra Clair, founder of Artemis, “Our consumer insights have highlighted that acute and chronic sleep disturbances are a common health concern people are suffering from in the Asia-Pacific realm and globally.

“Today our natural circadian rhythm is adversely impacted more than ever, for example by staying up late, using electronic devices too close to bedtime, and through noise and light pollution. These human influences hinder the ability of both the body and mind to rest and recharge overnight,

“In addition, many adults and young people are subject to enormous performance pressure and an unprecedented fast pace of life. Sleep disturbances have been further accentuated during the last 12-18 months as stress levels have risen due to the pandemic.”

Artemis 1

She added: “The current conditions we are living under mean that the need for sleep support will only increase and will be among the top health interventions in years to come.”

Artemis makes a range of medicinal tea and liquid formulations for sleep using medicinal grade plant-extracts such as valerian, hops, noble kava, and liquorice.

Another company, UK-based Sleep Well Milk, manufactures and sells a range of functional milk​ containing valerian, to help individuals relax and aid better sleep.

Without a good night's sleep, you're half the person you could be​,” according to Allan Watts, co-founder and director at Sleep Well Milk.

It recently announced plans to export to Asia later this year, specifically to Hong Kong and South Korea.


Ezaki Glico uses GABA which is an amino acid that acts as a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. It can reduce nerve transmission in the brain, calming nervous activity and anxiety.

One of the challenges during R&D was suppressing the flavour of GABA in the chocolate, which itself has a unique taste.

For Sleep Well, its functional ingredient valerian is said to complement GABA.

Despite a number of studies in the US and Europe, there is no conclusive scientific evidence that shows how valerian works. It is believed that valerian increases the amount of GABA in the brain​,” according to Watts. Sleep Well does not put any health claims on its products.

Sleep Well Milk Facebook

The firm chose milk as a format because “valerian is a herb with an unpleasant aroma and taste, which water will not be able to disguise. With milk, we can mask these properties easier​,” Watts said.

While Ezaki Glico’s chocolate and Sleep Well’s milk are functional foods, Artemis is taking a different approach, calling its products plant medicines.

“Many customers are reluctant to use synthetic or chemical-based products that have side-effects and can cause dependency. Our products are a natural alternative to pharmaceuticals, and our concentrated liquid plant medicines allow swift absorption of the bioactive plant compounds,” ​Clair explained.

“Since the launch of the Artemis Deep Sleep oral liquid, we have consistently received positive feedback, indicating that the product meets consumer expectations.”

Its oral liquid formulations can be consumed on its own, a recommended one teaspoon before a meal.

Artemis audits and validates all of its medicinal plant extracts to ensure effectiveness and safety.

Marketing obstacles

Beyond R&D challenges, Ezaki Glico was also faced with the difficulty of marketing its functional chocolate as a sleep aid.

In Japan, eating chocolate at night is not associated positively as people are aware of getting cavities, and there are no products which use chocolate to improve sleep quality​,” Yamagami said.

So, when the product was first launched, we held PR events and distributed news releases to spread awareness​.”

Now, about two years since its launch, the product is as established as the existing GABA chocolates. 

Yamagami said there was still plenty of potential for chocolate as sleep support products, “but I also believe that there is a need for meals or beverages that are more convenient, and taken more frequently in our lifestyle​.”

For Sleep Well, when the products were first launched in 2017 in UK, “It was very difficult to convince buyers in large supermarket chains that what they are buying is not just milk, it is a functional milk​,” Watts said.

It contains valerian which is expensive, and the process to make the product goes beyond the process for ordinary milk, therefore the price point was higher.

For the first two years, we had almost zero response from retailers. That changed significantly about 18 months ago when buyers in supermarkets, woke up to the fact (excuse the pun) that lack of sleep is a major issue around the world, which is costing the global economy billions of dollars every year in lost productivity and poor health,

Nearly every retailer, particularly in Europe and North America is now devoting whole shelves to sleep related products,

So, during that time, interest in our product escalated so quickly that we're not having to approach retailers​.”

During the first eight months of COVID-19, Sleep Well Milk saw a 400 to 500% increase in sales.

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