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New non-alcoholic downers to get you off the caffeine buzz

Two "downer" drinks from Mary Jane's Soda Inc.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: There's a fairly regular Starbucks run that leaves the office here around 9:30, ten o'clock or so every morning. Helps us cope with the all-too-common problem of not enough energy to make it through the morning. You throw coffee in with vending machines offering energy drinks and sodas. You add tea and the occasional chocolate bar and Americans consume tens of millions of pounds of caffeine every year. The drinks and all are great for keeping us up, but what about when we want to come down?

Marketplace's Caitlan Carroll reports they've got drinks for that, too.


Caitlan Carroll: After a long day of loading up on caffeine, sometimes the only way to relax is to have a drink. No, not that kind of drink.

Matt Moody: Mary Jane's Relaxing Soda is a relaxation drink that has kava in it.

Kava root supposedly relaxes you, like that other kind of Mary Jane. Matt Moody created the drink last year after losing his job at a nutritional supplement company. Moody's drinks are among the more than 20 "downer drinks" on the market now -- drinks like Vacation in a Bottle, Drank and Dream Water. They contain supplements such as melatonin, valerian root or tryptophan -- you know, the stuff that knocks you out after Thanksgiving dinner.

Gary Hemphill is with the research firm Beverage Marketing Corporation.

Gary Hemphill: What we know is that today's consumers will buy beverages for reasons other than refreshment.

Like to help them stay awake. The market for energy drinks is worth about $4 billion a year. But Hemphill says sales of relaxation drinks are still small, only around $20 million.

Hemphill: There is an education process with consumers to basically teach them what the product is.

And the high-octane approach of energy drinks like Red Bull and Rockstar isn't really an option.

Moody: We can't drive around in big monster trucks.

Matt Moody from Mary Jane's soda.

Moody: We have to drive in Mini Coopers and stuff like that. Something a little bit quieter.

Consumers are willing to spend to get some sleep. They already drop around $12 billion a year on pills, gadgets and bedding designed to help them get rest. But do these new drinks work? Hard to know. The FDA doesn't regulate the drink makers' claims.

Dr. Alon Avidan is from UCLA's Sleep Clinic.

Dr. Alon Avidan: We don't know what is being marketed. Whether the dose in these drinks is really an effective dose.

So to see if any of these drinks actually induce sleep, I turn to my colleagues at Marketplace. I started with overnight producer Ethan Lindsey.

Ethan Lindsey: Caitlan Carroll.

Carroll: Do you have two minutes?

I tracked him down at the coffee machine where spends a lot of his time.

Carroll: Did you try the relaxation drink? Which one did you have?

Lindsey: The chill shot. The iChill.

Carroll: Did the drink have any noticeable effect?

Lindsey: Before I could even take the iChill I fell asleep. But I only slept for four hours. So then I woke up again and said,"OK, this will put me back in the mood to go to asleep." I saw no noticeable difference and wasn't able to fall asleep.

Stacey Vanek Smith: It felt like I'd had three cocktails.

That's reporter Stacey Vanek Smith. After a shot of iChill, she slept through her alarm and the morning news meeting.

Vanek Smith: Yeah, it shouldn't be like iChill. It's like "iDon't make any plans or something.

My coworkers also tried out Vacation in a Bottle, Mary Jane's tea and Dream Water. The results were all over the place. Avidan from UCLA's sleep clinic says there's a simpler way. Cut the caffeine, don't fall asleep to the TV and don't take work to bed.

In Los Angeles, I'm Caitlan Carroll for Marketplace.

Kai Ryssdal: To see photos of the drinks and hear Dr. Alon Avidan describe how melatonin changes your circadian rhythms go to our website. It's Marketplace.org.

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