An apple a day keeps the doctor away, but tart cherry juice may keep insomnia at bay.
Nearly all of us experience insomnia at some point, and at least a third of Americans report experiencing it in the past year. Many take sleeping pills, melatonin supplements, or see specialized doctors for help with their sleep.
Those who prefer a less pharmaceutical option will be happy to hear: tart cherry juice is a natural sleep remedy that boosts melatonin and staves off insomnia.
If you’re not sure what melatonin is, here’s a helpful primer before we dive into the cherry juice connection.
Melatonin is the sleep hormone. Your brain kicks off melatonin production when it’s time for you to fall asleep, and your levels continue to rise throughout the night, reaching their peak in the early morning before you wake up. Then, melatonin starts to fall, while your cortisol rises in order to energize you for the day.
Now, back to tart cherry juice.
The (multiple) studies are in.
Several small studies have suggested that incorporating tart cherries into your daily diet can help regulate your sleep cycle and make it easier for you to fall asleep at night.
High levels of melatonin
A 2001 study found that tart Montmorency cherries contained high amounts of natural melatonin – 6 times more than sweet Balaton cherries, in fact. Tart cherry pie, anyone?
Improved sleep onset and sleep efficiency
A 2010 study of older adults with insomnia found that tart cherry juice had similar or better effects on sleep onset than valerian or melatonin supplements. However, researchers did note that all of these natural remedies were not as effective at eliminating insomnia as CBT-I therapy.
Another study in 2012 confirmed these results. The participants who drank two daily servings of tart cherry juice showed higher melatonin levels and enjoyed increased sleep time and sleep efficiency than their placebo peers.
Longer sleep times
Most recently, researchers found that drinking tart cherry juice could extend sleep by 84 minutes each night ! Participants, all aged 50 and older with insomnia, drank two glasses each day, once in the morning when they woke up and right before bed.
There are plenty of foods out there high in melatonin that don’t have the same impact on sleep. What makes cherry juice so special? The researchers from this study sought out to answer this question and came up with a few theories:
- Besides melatonin, tart cherry juice is also rich in procyanidins and anthocyanins. These chemicals, also found in blueberries, have antiinflammatory properties that can interfere with sleep.
- The participants who drank tart cherry juice also showed lower levels of kynurenine in their blood, which has been linked to sleep deprivation in depressed patients.
- It may also have something to do with how the cherries affect tryptophan, an amino acid involved in serotonin and melatonin production. The researchers hypothesized that other compounds in the cherries prevent tryptophan from fully breaking down, so it can do its job better.
Should you drink tart cherry juice instead of melatonin?
While the studies done thus far are promising, no studies have yet been done to determine whether there are any negative side effects to introducing high amounts of tart cherry juice into your daily diet. For example, an 8-ounce serving of tart cherry juice also includes 25 grams of sugar, which may be an important consideration for those on a diet or with diabetes.
It’s also important to note that many of the studies done were small, with 20 or fewer participants, and they focused on older adults with insomnia, who aren’t necessarily representative of the general population. Why the focus on the elderly? While insomnia can strike anyone, it poses more health risks for older adults, compromising their immune systems and worsening conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.
However, some people don’t like to take melatonin supplements, preferring instead to boost their levels naturally through the foods they eat. Drinking two 8-ounce glasses of tart cherry juice a day is a tasty alternative.
Plus, tart cherry juice offers other benefits besides quality sleep, including better muscle recovery for marathoners, long-distance runners, and weightlifters, as well as reduced joint pain and inflammation for those living with osteoarthritis.
Will any cherry juice work?
No. The cherries with high concentrations of melatonin are the tart or sour varieties, notably Montmorency, Richmond, and English morello cherries.
Also note that juices labeled “cocktail” are not the same as pure tart cherry juice, and therefore will not deliver the same benefits. Look for ones without added sugar or with “concentrate” in the name.
You can find tart cherry juice in most health food stores or the organic sections of local supermarkets. You can also order it online.