Being cooped up inside and spending way too much time staring at screens over the past months has wreaked havoc on my sleep schedule. (Sound familiar?) So when I heard that Pepsi was coming out with a new seltzer created to help people wind down and relax at night, I was curious. Unfortunately, the reality of the drink is a lot less soothing than promised.
Despite its name, which seems to indicate sleep-inducing capabilities, Pepsi says Driftwell is not actually a sleep aid. Instead, it’s designed to help people destress at the end of the day. The idea is that if you’re more relaxed at night, you’ll naturally fall asleep easier too. And while the category sounds a bit dull, the so-called functional beverage market has quietly been growing over the past few years (until hitting a small dip due to covid), with an increasing number of energy drinks, nootropics, and a whole host of over over-the-counter concoctions designed to help improve your health or mood in some way.
The way Driftwell brings on the chill is with the inclusion of magnesium and L-theanine, with the latter already having shown promise to promote mental health and reduce stress in a handful of studies. And when you consider L-theanine is also found in green tea, which has long been purported to provide a sense of calm, Pepsi’s claim that Driftwell can boost relaxation and therefore help you ease into your nightly routine isn’t really a huge stretch.
So to test it out, I bought some other products that actually claim to be sleep aids to get a better sense of how effective (or not) Driftwell actually is. In my experience, the results were somewhat hit-or-miss, or at least rather subtle. In situations where I pounded a Pepsi an hour or two before bedtime while watching TV or playing video games, I barely noticed anything. The only times I really noticed an effect was if I turned down all the lights, got into bed, downed a 7.5-ounce can, and either read a book or watched videos on my phone. Only then did I ever get the sense that I was drifting off anywhere, which not only takes a bit of setup, doesn’t preclude the possibility of the placebo effect either.
The problem for Driftwell is that when compared against both Som Sleep and sleeping pills made by Proper, which have formulations containing both magnesium and l-theanine in addition to other ingredients like GABA, melatonin, and Valerian root, Som and Proper both delivered a much more pronounced calming effect, almost bordering on true drowsiness. Now I admit none of these solutions are magic bullets for people with truly messed-up circadian rhythms, but when combined with a bit of exercise, I found Som and Proper were still more effective than Driftwell.
Of course there’s one more thing about Driftwell that can’t be left unmentioned: its taste. Now for full disclosure, I was sent two sample cans of Driftwell by Pepsi. The issue was that when I tried it, it tasted so bad I thought the samples were somehow spoiled or defective. While calling it a nightmare might be a bit of stretch, Driftwell straight up tastes like soap, which I think is caused by a lack of sugar and too much lavender. This is Pepsi we’re talking about—there’s no way a company this big with rooms of focus testers would release a product that tasted like the water left in my sink after doing the dishes, would it?
I was so surprised I thought my taste buds had lost it, so I bought another 10-pack for $23 on my own to confirm, and nope, just as bad. And then to make triple sure, I handed out cans of Driftwell to a number of friends, with not a single person reporting back that they enjoyed the taste, or noticed any significant relaxing effects. It’s a zero-sugar, zero-calorie drink that somehow manages to taste significantly worse than tap water.
Now I know taste is subjective, but everyone I consulted said Driftwell tastes like flat seltzer or fruit punch but without any sugar (which is kind of the whole point of fruit punch), I think it’s fair to say Driftwell failed the taste test. The most complimentary remark I heard was that “it doesn’t taste THAT bad.” And compared to Som Sleep (which is available with sugar or in a sweetened zero calorie version), Driftwell is even worse. Som is actually enjoyable and something I was gladly drink regularly at night, because it tastes a lot like yellow Gatorade or Pocari Sweat.
And that right there is the big hurdle, because even though it’s subtle, Driftwell seems to be on the same level as having a nighttime cup of tea, minus the caffeine. Unfortunately, almost any relaxing effects it might have are basically immediately canceled out by the fact that I often chugged or choked it down to get past the taste, which is not conducive to winding down.
This makes Driftwell a bit depressing, because the idea of having a cup of coffee or tea in the morning is a time-honored tradition—often a necessity for a lot of folks—and it’d be nice to have a counterpart at night to chill out at the end of the day. But for me, Driftwell ain’t it. It’s a good idea, but sadly, Pepsi’s execution doesn’t quite deliver on the dream.