The anti-Red Bull, Slow Cow, also calorie-free, has the aforementioned valerian (75 mg of it) in addition to a grab-bag of wholesome sounding ingredients: chamomile, passiflore, hops, and linden. I expected something creamy, given the dairy reference, but instead, I got the now-familiar soda/medicine mash-up. Slow Cow tastes like carbonated strawberry bubble gum or, as that taste is also known, "impending tooth decay." While feeling anxious about future dental bills, I did a few chores, replied to e-mails, Googled bedbugs versus lint, and fell asleep no more quickly or slowly than usual; I suppose the beverage didn't underdeliver on its promise for a slow evening.
Next was Mary Jane's, a cola-esque soda that comes in a stylish bottle winkingly inviting you to "enjoy a euphoric relaxation that's all natural, plain and simple." Unlike other beverages in this category, it doesn't explicitly mention sleep in its marketing materials but, rather, advertises itself for stressful yet functionality-requiring situations that run the gamut from public speaking, first dates, and job interviews to more endemic stressors such as deadbeat boyfriends and lousy girlfriends. ("How being semi-comatose will improve your relationship and help you fulfill all your ambitions" seems poised to be its next ad campaign.) The promo copy also notes helpfully that "Some have also compared the effects to marijuana (hence the name, Mary Jane) however, there are no side-effects such as laziness, 2 am pizza runs, black light posters, or handcuffs." The beverage features herbal extracts that actually have nothing to do with the name, including passionflower and kava—a rather mysterious plant that's used as a traditional ceremonial beverage in the Pacific Islands and is said to produce feelings of bliss. (Slate shopper emeritus Seth Stevenson once tested kava alongside other over-the-counter mood-enhancers.)
I blazed my way through the bottle, the taste of which wasn't totally disgusting, and I did feel a little tipsy, if not quite high or blissful. (I did start the paranoidish undertaking of logging every yawn. 10:33, 10:46, 10:51 …) After 30 minutes or so my fog lifted and I fell asleep—though far later than I'd hoped. Mary Jane's claims seem to be mostly puff or fluff. Pass.
I doubt I'll try any of these beverages again. (If I were in desperate need of a quick sleep at an unusual time, I might reach for iChill, but I wouldn't feel good about it.) The whole situation—drinking a beverage I didn't enjoy that became the whole focus of my night, constantly monitoring myself for any signs of a change in wakefulness or mood—reminded me of nothing so much as my first forays into booze via Mike's Hard Lemonade on long ago unenchanted evenings.
I probably did sleep more readily than usual throughout the whole test, but I'm convinced that's perhaps 10 percent the beverages, 30 percent the placebo effect, and 60 percent because this experiment forced me into a routine—something sleep experts always recommend. The real problem with these beverages is that they're unregulated by the FDA, which makes me uneasy—and anxiety is the very reason I reached for "relaxation drinks" in the first place.