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More Zzz’s, More Dough

When that midnight craving hits, you’re not reaching for baby carrots or a handful of almonds. You’re more than likely grabbing the good stuff: Cocoa Puffs, Oreos, or that seductive pint of Häagen-Dazs chocolate chip cookie dough.

A recent survey found that more than half of Americans consider ice cream an evening snack, with an additional quarter classifying it a late-night indulgence. Ice cream was named the second most popular night snack choice, according to research firm Mintel.

The truth is, all that fat and sugar right before bed is actually disruptive to catching those zzzs. But since some traditions are not to be messed with, what if we could tweak that frozen wonder to make it a little bit less taxing on one’s body?

That’s the premise of functional food startup Nightfood’s line of what it calls “sleep-friendly” ice cream. Launching in February, the brand says its confections will complement the human sleep cycle.

The $4.99 pints, the company says, have a balance of fiber, protein, and (less) sugar, which its scientific advisors (sleep experts Michael Breus and Michael Grandner along with nutritionist and sleep therapist Lauren Broch) helped formulate. Ingredients include a protein that’s relatively low in lactose, as well as minerals, amino acids, and enzymes they say aid sleep and reduce acid reflux.

Nightfood comes in eight tried-and-true flavors like chocolate, vanilla, chocolate chip cookie dough, and decaf coffee, all tailored to promote better rest. The Cherry Eclipse flavor, for example, relies on a specific type of cherry that’s naturally highest in melatonin. Other products are made from Chocamine, a cocoa-based ingredient that tastes just like the real thing but without the caffeine kick.

“We looked at everything through the prism of sleep,” founder Sean Folkson tells Fast Company. “It’s not about, like, dropping an Ambien or some sleep aid into the product; it’s about making ice cream in a way that’s less disruptive.”A FUNCTIONAL SOLUTION?
Nearly two decades ago, Folkson read Body for Life by Bill Phillips, and was sold on the author’s diet plan: six small meals a day in lieu of three big ones.

The plan worked well for Folkson, save for one area: He couldn’t fall asleep like he used to because his last, late-night mini meal upset his stomach. The entrepreneur assumed there would be some sort of sleep-friendly nutrition bar since there were bars for everything, from pregnancy to exercise, but there wasn’t.

Sleep deprivation was also increasingly being labeled a public health epidemic—more than a third of us do not enough get enough, reports the CDC. And nutrition was partly to blame.

“It was that time that I really got the idea,” reflects Folkson, who was then president of Specialty Equipment Direct, a wholesale construction device distributor. In 2010, Nightfood launched with those nutrition bars ($23.99 for a 12-pack) he was looking for.

Now, Folkson thinks the $50 billion nighttime snack market—and the larger $300 billion global functional food sector—is ready for his soporific frozen treats. (Functional refers to foods that possess a positive effect on health beyond basic nutrition.) With Nightfood, says Folkson, “we’re allowing people to stay within their format and switch out to something that tastes great.”

In an informal Nightfood poll of 300 consumers, 80% said they consume ice cream between dinner and bedtime. According to market research company IRI Worldwide, 44% of snack consumption occurs at night, representing over $1 billion spent weekly on nighttime snacks.Folkson is quick to point out that his brand isn’t necessarily advocating late-night sugary snacks; rather, if it’s already happening, might as well make it more agreeable to the digestive system.

“I don’t think there’s anybody that thinks, ‘Oh, this is exactly what a sleep expert or nutrition expert would tell me to do,” Folkson says. “There’s that understanding of, well, maybe that’s not the best.”

WHEN NICHE GOES MAINSTREAM
Bedtime ice cream is undoubtedly intriguing, but are consumers willing to ditch their premium brands for it? Folkson thinks yes: “There’s nobody out there that wouldn’t want to feel like they got an extra 10 or 15 minutes of sleep,” he says. He compares his product to when Vicks launched NyQuil: Why not opt for a product that also suits your sleep schedule?

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