It’s no secret that Americans don’t sleep enough, with nearly a third of adults getting less than six hours of shut-eye per night. The CDC declared sleep a public health epidemic, spurring Silicon Valley to create a host of gadgets, robots, and even luxe homes to lull the restless back to bed.
But many still rely on sleep aids such as Ambien or Xanax, which often have problematic side effects and result in dependence issues. The more health-conscious opt for more natural remedies like melatonin supplements, although it doesn’t work for everyone.
To that end, newly launched Remrise hopes to embody a fully holistic sleep company that combines personalized supplements with tech. The company sells $55-per month subscriptions, which include plant-based sleep aids accompanied by a suite of digital tools: an online educational platform and a meditation app that connects to Fitbit, Oura, and other tracking devices.
The startup secured over $8 million in funding led by Founders Fund and cofounding investor Atomic, the incubator behind millennial-friendly supplement unicorn Hims.
“The world’s just not made for good sleep, and there’s not good solutions out there,” asserts Remrise founder and CEO Veronica Lee, an entrepreneur who previously invested in fintech platform Midas League.
Remrise is rooted in the philosophy that a full range of products—not just one—can improve behavioral sleep health habits.
Users start by taking a two-minute quiz to document lifestyle choices—exercise frequency, coffee consumption, meal times etc.—for which Remrise create personalized recommendations. This includes one of four rotating supplement formulations, each composed of herbal ingredients, amino acids, and vitamins concocted by a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) specialist. The formulations change to prevent one’s body from building up a tolerance that renders it ineffective.
Remrise conducted a pilot study of its formulations compared to melatonin, with findings showing that the quality of sleep increased from six out of 10 to 8.5 out of 10 on average. But the study was conducted in-house—i.e., not by a third party or university research center—and only tested 90 people. Later this year, Remrise intends to include 400 people in a study to test against a placebo.
While the formulations were mostly made by a TCM expert, there are two Western medical advisers on staff—Dr. Robert Stickgold, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of the Center for Sleep and Cognition, and Dr. Hanh Le, senior director of medical affairs at Healthline.
With feet in both medical traditions, Remrise is branding itself as “modern sleep care company” that relies on natural holistic ingredients. It’s a blend of East and West, stresses Lee. “We’re using traditional Chinese medicine herbs that have been used for thousands of years, but because we’re marketing it to the millennial generation, we want to have a modern spin on it.”
Much like Hims, the sleek and Instagram-friendly branding design incorporates tasteful imagery in soothing bright colors like violet, coral, and melon pink. The herbs are photographed against a minimalist background alongside cheeky slogans like “here’s to winding down.”
Can consumers distinguish fact from hype?
However, some sleep experts raise concerns about marketing Eastern medicine with such authority and in such playful ways. Dr. Michael Breus, a diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine, takes aim at Remrise for marketing its product as a sufficient substitute for those dependent on Ambien, noting the challenge of withdrawal and the difficulties inherent in tapering off such a powerful drug.
“They also admit in their marketing that your body will habituate to their product, so you will need stronger and stronger doses,” Breus tells Fast Company. “Not a good sign.”
Lee says Remrise caters to a growing number of customers, many of them millennial women, seeking natural solutions to big pharma products: “With the new generation, there’s almost a distrust of the traditional healthcare system.”
Indeed, such a distrust inspired a new, empowered customer to take ownership of their health via alternative wellness initiatives. This spurred the rapid growth of the supplement industry, $100 million bone broth companies, and of course, Goop. It even inspired the “clean med” revolution.
“Consumers are trying to educate themselves on different ingredients and solutions to create something that works for them,” adds Lee, noting, “a lot of these prescription products don’t have the personalization element to it, and a lot of the clinical trials only included Caucasian men.”
These are valid points pointing to a frustrated consumer who feels ignored or mishandled by mainstream Western medicine. But it’s difficult to imagine the average consumer knowing enough about medicine—or the limits of natural alternatives—to recognize the difference between fact and hype. Not to mention that Eastern medicine is often not backed by enough science-based research to satisfy most doctors.
Online, potential customers seemed legitimately intrigued by the promise of a safe alternative to Ambien, especially since Remrise offers a two-week trial refund guarantee. Others were more skeptical, like one Facebook commenter who wrote, “I’d be up all night worrying about what would happen when my wife found out I blew $55 on an unproven collection of plant-based stuff.”
A number of ingredients—like magnesium, l-tryptophan, and valerian root—do boast some research that attest to their efficacy. Remrise recognizes that most American consumers are not terribly familiar with TCM, and as such, attempts to explain how each Eastern ingredient works. But more than anything, it seems like the startup is banking on a distrust of pharma to propel interest in alternatives.
Still, Lee reiterates, supplements are just a part of Remrise’s holistic model and can be effective in conjunction with behavioral changes.
“We’re utilizing a whole suite of products and services. The supplements are one piece of the system,” says Lee, acknowledging that sleep is a tricky thing that’s often hard to gauge without personally testing. “At the end of the day, no solution will work for everyone.”