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REST EASY: Co-owners Jason Harris, left, and Ed Powell are marketing their product to business travelers with placement in hotels, such as Hilton Garden Inn.
REST EASY: Co-owners Jason Harris, left, and Ed Powell are marketing their product to business travelers with placement in hotels, such as Hilton Garden Inn.

Business Spotlight: The Road to REM

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Jason Harris has had trouble sleeping as long as he can remember.

“I’ve tried ZzzQuil and all that, and they work, but they build up and they’re toxic,” Harris says. “The diphenhydramine is horrible.”

A quick Google search confirms diphenhydramine as an antihistamine often found in allergy-relievers like Benadryl, but it also can be used to treat symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, relieve motion sickness and insomnia, too.

“I was always in a fog,” Harris recalls.

Today, Harris is the founder of Sleepsana, an all-natural sleep aid making its way into convenience stores and hotel rooms. Now, it’s safe to say Harris is getting in his eight hours every night.

Strange effects
The road to rapid eye movement sleep, aka REM, wasn’t an easy one.

A friend once offered Harris an Ambien sedative, he says, promising it would put him to bed in no time. That night the branded zolpidem made Harris sleep just as hard as he’d been dreaming of, and he awoke the next morning feeling refreshed, wide-eyed and wondering just what his friend had given him.

Later, Harris’ doctor wrote him a prescription for Ambien, but 18 months later, some negative effects of the drug were showing.

“My side effect was short-term memory loss,” Harris says, noting he often forgot about conversations from days earlier.

Harris turned to melatonin supplements and gamma-aminobutyric acid, aka GABA, an anti-anxiety inducer, but to no avail. It seemed none of the natural sleep aids on the market worked for Harris, either.

Out of frustration, he soon turned to the pros.

Harris was part of an undisclosed business that created weight-loss products.

“We had a lab,” he recalls, “I called them up and I said, ‘Look, can you guys make a natural sleep aid that can help get me off of Ambien?”

After some research and development, 45 days later, Harris said goodbye to the memory-killing drug. The lab created an all-natural sleep aid that worked for him, and even better, Harris thought they could sell it. Ed Powell soon joined the team as co-owner. Powell, who also co-owns Herrman Lumber Co., says he was invigorated by the business prospects.

“I worked at the lumber company for over 40 years. Sleepsana was a completely different product,” says Powell, the former president whose work slowed down after Herrman Lumber sold five of its 10 stores in May 2013.

How it works
Sleepsana combines six key all-natural ingredients: GABA, to reduce anxiety; L-Tryptophan, to increase sleepiness; fulvic acid, to deliver important nutrients; valerian root, to improve sleep quality; melatonin, to help reset one’s internal clock; and L-theanine, to relax the mind.

Dr. Thomas Rossiter, a 30-year internal medicine specialist in Springfield, serves on Sleepsana’s advisory board.

“It works extremely well for me,” Rossiter says.

He cautions the use of prescription sleep aids with known addictive qualities and for causing high-risk situations, like car accidents, the day after taking them.

“There’s huge warnings on them now,” Rossiter says.

The combination of natural ingredients in Sleepsana, he says, is a key difference. When taken individually, it can be hit or miss for patients.

“Every single dose has exactly what we say in it,” says Rossiter, who appears in a Sleepsana infomercial.

Sleepsana, a liquid taken orally, costs just under $3 for a one-time shot and around $25 for a 30-day supply of drops. The company launched two years ago and began selling online, but retail distribution began in November.

Before then, the company got a boost with an investment and endorsement by Kevin Harrington, a co-host in the early days of ABC’s “Shark Tank.”

Harris says the two met over dinner through a mutual friend, and Harrington liked the product and the packaging. Considered a pioneer of the “As Seen On TV” industry and a part of launching over 500 products, Harrington lists Sleepsana among a dozen products at KevinHarrington.tv, along with the Master Pan cooking tool and NuGene skincare by Kathy Ireland.

Market awakening
In the Ozarks, Sleepsana is on the shelves at Price Cutter, Hy-Vee and Family Pharmacy stores, among others. And the company sells product through the Asian-American Transatlantic Council, which represents 88,000 convenience stores in the United States. A sister association represents 800 pharmacies and another represents 36,000 hotels.

“They represent some of the largest hotel brands in the world,” Harris says.

Now, they’re working on selling to customers on hotel nightstands.

“The No. 1 problem with any hotel guest is sleep. We target the business travelers,” Harris says. “What I was able to do was negotiate through this association the ability to be sold not just in the hotel pantry, but we are in the rooms of the hotel. They’re on the nightstand, right there with information about it.”

The Hilton Garden Inn in southeast Springfield soon will begin testing Sleepsana products in its rooms.

“Our company actively tries to promote local businesses,” says Chris Baldwin, general manager of the O’Reilly Hospitality Management-owned property in Farmers Park.  

Baldwin accepted Harris’ pitch and expects to begin testing the product in rooms in May.

Within the next few years, Harris anticipates Sleepsana will have reached 30,000 convenience stores and 20,000 hotels. He declined to disclose first-year revenue projections.

In February, the company hired Joe Daues, former KY3 advertising salesman, to handle marketing. Up next is an expanded product line for children – “Kids have issues sleeping, too,” Harris says – and entry into China and Taiwan. Harris says Sleepsana is in the preapproval stages for selling in the Asian countries.

While it could generate more sales, Harris doesn’t recommend insomnia-ridden people become attached to the product.

“I don’t think you should take any product every night, whether it’s a prescription, an over-the-counter drug or a natural sleep aid,” he says, but he understands why customers feel like they need it. “We’re a too-stimulated, go-go-go society.”

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