This story has been updated.
The first thing you should know about Nightfood, a new “sleep-friendly” ice cream, is that it’s a genius idea. That statement is true whether it actually works. But many people have trouble sleeping, and many people love eating ice cream, and the possibility of cookies-and-cream-flavored Ambien, even though that’s not exactly how the product functions, is going to be irresistible to insomniacs everywhere.
“Part of me is like, I’m jealous I’m not part of this marketing scheme,” said Raj Dasgupta, assistant professor of clinical medicine specializing in sleep at Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. “They knew exactly where to strike.”
Yep, right in the taste buds. Nightfood’s ice creams come in flavors such as decaf cold brew, Bed and Breakfast (waffles and syrup), chocolate cherry and Cookies n’ Dreams. The ice creams do not contain melatonin or other sleep supplements, so they will not necessarily help you fall asleep. The point is they will not keep you awake, either: The ice cream is configured to include less of the stuff that can impede your digestion to cause disrupted sleep, like lactose, sugar and caffeine. It also has boosted levels of certain vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium, which studies have shown is beneficial for sleep. It is endorsed by Michael Breus, the “Sleep Doctor,” who was a consultant involved in its development.
You could eat Nightfood any time of day without feeling drowsy, but the product is designed for sleep because surveys have shown one of the most common times people tuck into a pint of ice cream is at night, probably while watching Netflix. But can junk food really solve your sleep problems? Probably not, Dasgupta said.
The best way to improve your sleep is to practice good sleep hygiene: have a set bedtime and wake time every day, avoid caffeine and screens late at night, and, uh, do not eat within two hours of your bedtime. But our willpower fails us in the face of a “Russian Doll” binge with a pint of mint chocolate chip.
“They know no one is going to listen to this advice, so, might as well cater to them,” Dasgupta said. Sugary snacks “are the no-no foods you don’t want someone to eat [before bed]. If they’re going to eat it anyway, I’d rather they grab the nutritious one rather than the Twinkie or the cupcake.”
And here’s the thing: It actually tastes really good. Unlike other “functional” ice creams that boast of higher protein and lower sugar and fat, Nightfood uses real sugar — no alternative sweeteners. There is milk and cream in the ingredients list. It has fewer calories than your typical pint, but you would hardly know it from the texture or taste. It does not seem like a healthy ice cream, which makes it all the more likable. Compared with Haagen Dazs, Nightfood’s pints have significantly less sugar and fat — but they taste way better than other low-fat alternatives, like Halo Top. Every container of Nightfood I tried seemed curiously underfilled, but CEO Sean Folkson says this is a problem that sometimes occurs when pints are shipped individually with dry ice, which compresses the ice cream, but does not occur with ice cream that goes through regular grocery distribution channels. The company is fixing the problem.
I cannot say for sure whether it actually improved my sleep, though. Trendy adaptogenic foods — foods with natural compounds that promote certain physiological functions, such as healthier skin, less anxiety or improved concentration — are on the upswing, but it is hard to determine how well these products fulfill their claims. The placebo effect is strong. And while my sleep was not disrupted after eating Nightfood, it typically is not after eating other ice creams, anyway.
“I don’t think they’re going to run a double-blinded control trial on ice cream,” Dasgupta said.
Nightfood is not the only sleep-friendly product. Counting Sheep Coffee, a now-defunct product launched in 2013, is a decaffeinated coffee that contains valerian, a natural sleep aid. There are also several carbonated sleep drinks, including Som and Neuro Sleep. They might help a bit, but Dasgupta cautions that sleep-promoting foods are not a cure-all.
“You’re not just going to start eating this food and get great sleep. There’s other things that go into it, too,” like your overall health, stress level and the amount of time you spend aimlessly scrolling through Twitter in bed.
So if you were hoping your doctor would prescribe you ice cream … well, in your dreams.
Correction: A previous version of this story referenced Counting Sheep Coffee as a sleep-friendly product on the market. It is no longer available for purchase.
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