Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep. We all experience insomnia from time to time. It can be acute – lasting one to several nights – or chronic – lasting months or years. In the United States, about 30-40% of adults sleep poorly, according to the National Centre for Sleep Disorders Research at the National Institutes of Health. Most adults say they suffer from some form of insomnia each year, and about 15-20 per cent of adults say they have chronic insomnia.
As someone who has lived with insomnia since childhood, Deirde Hynds, an entrepreneur now living in Banagher, Offaly, explained why she created the Unwind evening snack bar. “My family doctor diagnosed me with chronic insomnia when I was 17. I spent the next decade trying to get better and researching ways to improve the quantity and quality of my sleep. The less responsible ones included being prescribed strong sleeping pills and not living as healthily as I could have. In the last five to six years, I have taken a more natural and holistic route to achieve a good night’s sleep. I decided to manage it through lifestyle changes: things like yoga, meditation, and diet really worked. But it used to bother me that someone with insomnia would go online, go on Google (in a haze at four in the morning) and enter ‘insomnia’ or ‘problem sleeping’ and what would come up are a litany of horrible problems; stroke, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimers. That’s such a negative result for someone trying to improve their sleep. It made me want to create a product and a brand that would bring some positivity to the area of poor sleep.”
Background & Business
Having grown up in Moate, Deirdre is one of five children. Her mum Esther is from Offaly; dad Seamus is from Westmeath. She attended school in Moate before going to UCD in Dublin to do a degree and a Masters in Art History and English.
Deirdre is a former business owner and a seasoned entrepreneur. In 2013, she co-founded a sustainable fashion label, which ran for four years. “We showed the brand internationally. It was great, but probably a little ahead of its time because sustainable fashion hadn’t really taken off. We were trying to source the fabrics locally wherever we could – which isn’t always possible to do. We were doing our production in Ireland, and working with Irish linen, Irish wools and Irish tweeds manufacturers. In the end, it simply became too expensive to source raw materials from here in Ireland and I had to close the label.”
Deirdre was running a co-working studio in Dublin when she decided to return to school to obtain a Masters in Consumer Psychology from Bangor University. She had to travel by ferry to Wales on top of her workload.
“The goal was to create a product that included all the natural ingredients that I use in my own life to promote feelings of rest and relaxation. Also, it was important to create content that was specifically meant for use in the evenings and provided free-of-charge so that people could custom tailor their evening routine to the way they work best. In particular, it helps to use natural ingredients as bedtime methods to help promote sleep and relaxation. I thought a treat with natural ingredients may decrease stress and relax someone before going to sleep.”
The Next Business
In 2017, she finished her Master’s in Consumer Psychology and had specialised specifically in learning about how consumer behaviour affected a business. “I am a pathological business starter – I like to make things from scratch and I have big ideas. Unwind was The Marriage of Both Worlds. It combined all the things I was interested in, both personally and professionally.”
It was one of Deirdre’s friends who was working with the Local Enterprise Office (LEO) in Offaly that suggested that she enter their Young Entrepreneur competition. However, Deirdre said that she had nothing to enter, but her friend said she always had fantastic ideas, so she should submit one. That’s what Deirdre did, and she won the Best Idea prize in Offaly. Winning the award was the push that she needed. “Since then, I have been in regular contact with Ger and Orla at the LEO. It all began then. Being backed by a small amount of funding from them allowed me to move on to the next stage. I could develop a brand, and I could develop a product, and that’s what I did.”
Although Deirdre has spent about three years researching sleep and positive health, she does not have a background in food science. Therefore, she worked with product developers and a food scientist at St. Angela’s Food Technology Centre in Sligo. “I created my dream product with their help. The team used the ingredients that I wanted (and the ones I didn’t want) and worked very closely with me to design the final product.”
Deirdre’s husband Pat McIntyre is a local farmer and the family now live in Banagher, so Offaly was always going to be where Unwind was going to be based.
A Bar is Born
Deirdre had looked at several different versions of the snack bar. She originally designed it to be less indulgent. There is a very small percentage of chocolate, between 5 and 10%, so it’s not huge; it’s for taste. We use really high-quality Belgian chocolate. Generally, people wanted to give themselves a little bit of a treat before bed made from ingredients that are naturally nighttime friendly such as chamomile flower which has long been known for improving sleepiness and relieving stress and anxiety. Montmorency cherry is associated with naturally increased levels of melatonin, according to recent studies. And L-theanine is typically found in green tea, and this amino acid is often associated with increased feelings of relaxation and focus. “We see our bars as a gentle little bedtime hug in the form of a grown-up treat, we’re not targeting children or packed lunches!”
Unwind is not an artisan product. She hopes to be in retail stores worldwide, not just in this country. “If we produced it in our own kitchen, we couldn’t do that. It would be impossible. The bars are made in Monaghan by a family-run manufacturer. They have operated a manufacturing plant for 30 years. We’ve had an incredible experience with them so far. Since the beginning, they’ve been involved.”
Deirdre designed all the packaging and branding for the Unwind bar. She worked with design agencies who took her idea of what the brand was, and who she wanted it to speak to. The fantastic illustrations were done by Conor Nolan a Dublin based illustrator.
Across the country, Unwind bars are available in about 130 local health food stores. “I would encourage people to ask their local health food stores for these products because the Independent retailers have been our heroes since the beginning. We need to support these people. We need to support our local businesses.”
Deirdre plans to offer new flavours in the future and cater for different lifestyles. “I’d love to produce a vegan option and a range of gluten-free bars. As well. I also want to offer Unwind in a multipack – so it’s a shareable evening treat.”
Lots of original content has been produced which is freely available on www.unwind.ie, with topics and sequences like sleepy night yoga, bedtime stories for grown-ups, and guided evening meditation with the aim of creating an online community. “I like to do things yesterday; It’s not my natural way of being to slow down. My husband is the opposite, so he’s always saying: ‘Take your time!’”
This article was published in the Westmeath Independent 13/10/21.