A Lullaby of Deception - Truth in Advertising (2024)

UPDATE 12/9/22: Relaxium has settled a class-action lawsuit that cited this blog post and that alleged the company misleadingly markets its supplement as a “clinically proven” sleep aid. The terms of the settlement weren’t disclosed. Our original blog follows.

I thought if I could just get an hour of sleep I could ride that hour until it was time to leave the hospital. Then Mike Huckabee appeared on my TV screen.

“Like many of you, I’ve struggled to get a good night’s sleep for most of my adult life. I wasted at least two hours a day of my life tossing and turning, trying to shut my mind down. Until about two years ago – that’s when I saw an ad on TV for Relaxium Sleep. I decided to order it and it literally changed my life.”

My life had just been changed dramatically as the reason I was in the hospital was for the birth of my first child, who arrived the previous night. Now, as mom and baby rested, I was enduring my own sort of labor trying to mentally note all the questionable claims in this supplement ad.

Huckabee, who already holds a spot on TINA.org’s Wall of Shame for his role in multiple deceptive marketing campaigns, goes on to say that Relaxium is “clinically proven to help you fall asleep, stay asleep and wake up refreshed.” But I located the supporting study in the “research” section of the Try Relaxium website, which doubles down on the “clinically proven” claims and where consumers are told to go to get their “risk-free” bottle, and it contains this bombshell: The study acknowledges that subjects who took Relaxium “reported more difficulty getting to sleep and a lower quality of sleep” than those who were given the placebo.

But wait, there’s more.

  • A Fitbit Inspire was used to assess sleep quality and sleep duration and the results “did not show any differences between treatments for time in bed, time asleep, time awake, light sleep, deep sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep,” the study states.
  • While the study was conducted from July 2019 to January 2020, it only tracked subjects’ sleeping habits for two weeks after a one-week placebo lead-in period. Combined, that is less than the amount of time you get to test out the product under the advertised “30-day trial,” though the actual amount of time you get to try the product is 17 days (more on this to come).
  • The study notes that, “Insufficient rest or sleep is a prevalent problem for adults, with more than 50 million suffering from chronic sleep and wakefulness disorders…” Yet only 38 subjects with insomnia, the majority of them white and female, enrolled in the study. “Sample size” is given as a study limitation, along with technical difficulties with wrist actigraphy (aka the Fitbit monitoring) and compliance with completion of diaries and questionnaires that subjects were required to fill out but apparently resisted.
  • Below study limitations, the funding source is identified as the American Behavioral Research Institute, which is Relaxium or, more precisely, the company that manufactures and markets the supplement. Its founder is Eric Ciliberti, the developer of Relaxium. Its CEO is Timea Ciliberti, Eric’s wife.

The study describes Relaxium as a “novel formulation of various herbs and known sleep inducers … Key ingredients include melatonin, L-tryptophan, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and several herbal extracts (e.g., Sensoril, Ashwagandha, Valerest, a blend of hops and valerian and Chamomile Passionflower).” According to the Mayo Clinic, “Research suggests that melatonin might slightly reduce the time it takes to fall asleep, but its effects on sleep quality and total sleep time aren’t clear.”

In response to a request for comment regarding the marketing of Relaxium as “clinically proven,” Timea Ciliberti told me in an email:

I can assure you the Relaxium Sleep study was done using the highest level of compliance with appropriate number of subjects commonly used for nutraceutical clinical trials in a double blind environment. All subjects with incomplete questioners were excluded from the study.

In the ad, Huckabee also says Relaxium “comes with a 100% Money Back Guarantee so you have nothing to lose. In fact, they’re so confident it’ll work for you they’re giving away a thousand bottles today.” But you actually have quite a bit to lose. According to fine print at the very bottom of the Try Relaxium website:

If you love the countless benefits of deep interrupted sleep you are getting from Relaxium Sleep and you would like to continue enjoying it, you don’t have to do anything. We will conveniently bill your credit card the deeply discounted rate of $119.90 seventeen days from today for your two months’ supply we are including in your first package.

That’s 17 days from your order of a 30-day trial bottle. So the bottle will barely be half empty (this is not a half-full situation) and you’ll get charged over $100 for more product you may not want. And the charges continue every two months according to the fine print. Numerous consumers have complained to the BBB about unauthorized charges after signing up for the trial bottle.

A Lullaby of Deception - Truth in Advertising (2024)
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