Winter Has Consumers Reaching for Melatonin, Other Sleep Aids
WASHINGTON — Web searches for melatonin are up about 36%, suggesting sleep may be harder to come by during the winter months, a new survey from the Sleep Foundation says.
The D.C.-based foundation recently analyzed about 18 years of data compiled as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
The results were posted in a lengthy blog on its website, from which the findings presented here were extracted.
In the past five years, the phrase “how to fall asleep fast” increased from 69% to 200% in the final weeks of January.
West Virginia, Kentucky, and Mississippi are the states with the highest relative search volume for melatonin, with 27.4% of adults saying they use melatonin regularly.
Searches for the term “sleep aid” also reached their five-year peak the week of Jan. 30, 2022.
Google searches for the term “melatonin” have jumped each of the past five winters, peaking each January.
According to Google Trends, melatonin searches grew 36% from late December 2021 to early January 2022, spiking again at the end of January.
“When used along with improved sleep hygiene, melatonin will not only potentially help you fall asleep more easily, but it will also help to shift your internal clock earlier,” said Jeanne Duffy, Ph.D., sleep-medicine scientist and contributor for SleepFoundation.org.
As a natural hormone that syncs our sleep-wake cycle to the light and dark parts of the day, melatonin helps set our circadian rhythms.
The lack of morning sunlight, thanks in part to the Northern Hemisphere tilting away from the sun during the winter, may shift the body’s sleep-wake cycle later in the day.
Duffy co-authored a recent study that showed Google searches for the word “insomnia” increased by 58% during the first five months of 2020.
So what’s so special about melatonin, especially compared to other sleep aids?
For starters, the Sleep Foundation points out, it’s an over-the-counter supplement that requires no prescription — just $5 or so for a bottle.
Google Trends indicates how many users searched for a specific term compared to all Google traffic in that time on a scale from zero to 100.
Searches for the term “melatonin” reached 99 or 100 on that scale four times in the past five years, in the weeks of Jan. 3, Jan. 24, and Jan. 21, 2021, as well as the week of Jan. 30, 2022.
Searches for the term “sleep aid” also reached their five-year peak the week of Jan. 30, 2022. The past few years, search volume for that term also increased in January and other winter months.
Similarly, although the phrase “how to fall asleep fast” has never exceeded single digits on Google’s search scale, it has increased consistently in late December each year, matching melatonin interest.
In the past five years, searches for that phrase increased 69% to 200% in the final weeks of the year.
Among sleep aids themselves, interest for melatonin and Benadryl — a brand name for the antihistamine/sedative diphenhydramine — dominate search volume.
The search term “Benadryl” sees a spike in the early summer, likely because of its use as an allergy medication.
Searches for “Unisom,” a brand name for the antihistamine doxylamine, also has had steady search interest in the past five years, with a 10% to 23% increase in the last week of December and the first week of January.
But search volume for it, along with “valerian root” and “tranquilizer,” do not reach the peaks that melatonin does in the winter.
Of all sleep aids, it also may be the most likely to help with winter sleep issues, Duffy says. Which may be the root of the trend.