Is it magic or malarkey in Johnson & Johnson’s new baby sleep formula? The maker of one of the world’s most recognizable household products, Johnson’s No More Tears Baby Shampoo, recently introduced a line of bedtime soap and lotion products (JOHNSON’S® BEDTIME®) which it boldly claims will help children sleep through the night. (Is there a more tantalizing marketing message for a new parent anywhere?) The trick is in the allegedly calming aromas. These trademarked (and patent-pending) NATURALCALM™ essences are chemical replications of lavender and chamomile fragrances (and Sodium Laureth-13 Carboxylate, PEG-150 Distearate, Tetrasodium EDTA, Quaternium-15). It’s effectively a version of aromatherapy, a term coined by a French chemist in the 1920s for which evidence of efficacy remains anecdotal. Or as a systematic review of the practice found: “the effects of aromatherapy are probably not strong enough for it to be considered for the treatment of anxiety. The hypothesis that it is effective for any other indication is not supported by the findings of rigorous clinical trials.”
That kind of scientific naysaying doesn’t bother Dr. Jodi Mindell, a pediatric sleep expert and professor of psychology at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, who gets a good portion of her money from J&J. Mindell is, you guessed it, an avid endorser of Johnson’s new bedtime products. (She likes to endorse them while wearing a purple blouse to match the product line design.) Funding for Mindell’s 2009 study “A Nightly Bedtime Routine: Impact on Sleep in Young Children and Maternal Mood” was supported by J&J Consumer Companies, Inc. and Dr. Mindell has otherwise consulted for and participated in several speaking engagements for J&J. (The co-authors of Mindell’s study are J&J employees.) And while “real moms” tout the products too, their assessments are often a little more reality-based than the corporate claims. “I don’t know that it truly has the calming effects it claims to, nor does my daughter sleep any better than usual,” writes one mom. “However, applying lotion is part of our nighttime routine and we enjoy the Baby Bedtime Lotion.” Okay then–why can’t the company just say something like that? To view a large number of people talking up Bedtime® check out CafeMom.com, an ad-supported social networking site that receives much of its advertising revenue from Johnson & Johnson.