Can Tart Cherry Juice Help You Sleep?

Learn how tart cherry juice can serve as a natural aid for better sleep

By Sheryl Grassie

Inexpensive and readily available in most grocery stores, tart or sour cherry juice is being researched as an alternative to other sleep aids. Numerous studies show a correlation between tart cherry juice and improved sleep. When the cherries are incorporated into the diet, especially in the form of juice, they seem to have a chemical reaction that supports melatonin in the body and naturally improves sleep.

Fresh organic sour cherry, ripe, deep red cherry

About Tart Cherry Juice

The first thing to know is that not all cherries are created equal when it comes to improving sleep. The lighter, sourer versions, versus the typical dark red Morello cherries that are commonly found in the grocery store, are what you want the juice made from.

Montmorency, Richmond, Balaton, and English Morello varieties all support better sleep, with Montmorency being the most common. They grow in half a dozen states in the United Sates namely Michigan, California, Utah, New York, Washington, and Oregon. Cherries are rich in antioxidants and have an anti-inflammatory effect that can also help with sleep.

The Cherries need to be consumed in a concentrated form such as juice to have an impact. Make sure you buy 100% pure tart or sour cherry juice, without added sugar or chemicals since cherries are already naturally high in sugar. If it says juice cocktail, stay away. Look for the words, “tart” or “sour” on the label.

How Tart Cherry Juice Supports Sleep

There are several ways that the properties of tart cherry juice help with sleep. First, the cherries contain melatonin and are a natural way to directly supplement melatonin in the system. We know melatonin is the body’s sleep hormone and helps us transition into sleep. If levels are low, it can cause insomnia. The tart cherry juice increases melatonin and helps create the drowsy feeling you get just before falling asleep.

Second, the tart cherry juice acts as a preservative for the amino acid L-tryptophan helping maintain more of it for use in hormone production. Tryptophan, as it is commonly called, is crucial in the development of 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5HTP) which is a precursor to serotonin and melatonin production. In essence, tart cherry juice supports better functioning of the hormones that regulate sleep.

When looking for a natural remedy to increase sleep, studies show that drinking tart cherry juice on a twice daily basis improves sleep more than taking melatonin or valerian root supplements, two popular natural sleep-aids. An eight-ounce glass should be consumed in the morning and again about an hour before bed.

Specific effects on sleep

In particular, tart cherry juice helps with falling asleep and insomnia, increased sleep time, sleep efficiency, and the ability to regulate sleep-awake cycles. Let’s take a look at each of these.

Falling asleep and insomnia

With naturally occurring melatonin, and support of the sleep hormone chain, tart cherry juice is a natural support for insomnia. We know melatonin makes the body drowsy and ready for sleep. Tart cherry juice is both a natural form of melatonin and a natural melatonin enhancer, helping the body prepare for sleep and overriding insomnia.

Increased sleep time

Several studies have found increased sleep time a benefit of twice daily tart cherry juice. One study found it increased sleep by an average of 39 minutes, and a second study saw an increase of 84 minutes. A study done at Louisiana State University found that after drinking tart cherry juice twice daily for two weeks, older adults saw an increase in sleep time of 90 minutes. All these studies reported a significant increase in the amount of sleep that individuals were experiencing with the addition of tart cherry juice.

Sleep efficiency

How well you sleep is calculated by the amount of time you are in bed divided by the amount of time you are actually asleep. The ratio should be at least 85%. So if you are in bed for 8 hours, and awake for 1.5 hours of those hours, you would fall below the 85%. Drinking tart cherry juice improved the amount of sleep people got relative to the amount of time they were in bed and thus improved sleep efficiency.

Sleep-awake cycles

The body has innate sleep-awake cycles that are controlled by the brain. In an ideal world, these cycles would keep us awake all day and asleep all night. However, it is not that simple. The rhythm of our sleep-awake cycles, also called our circadian rhythm or biological clock, can be disrupted by many things from eating too late in the evening to working irregular hours. These disruptions can alter our natural cycles and cause us to be sleepy during the day and wide-awake at night. Tart cherry juice seems to help regulate the sleep-awake cycles.

Side Effects

Tart cherry juice has no known side effects and is considered a safe and natural way to increase sleep. There is a caution for those who need to control blood glucose as the concentrated juice is high in sugar. It may be a concern for people who are dieting or have insulin disorders like diabetes. More studies could be done looking at potential side effects and/or reactions with various medications.

Summary

Tart or sour cherry juice is considered a safe and very effective sleep aid, especially for older adults. It needs to come from certain varieties of cherries like the Montmorency that organically contain melatonin and support melatonin production. Two 8oz glasses a day, morning and before bed, improved all sleep functions (falling asleep, efficiency, duration, and sleep-awake cycles) in trial subjects. Especially where narcotic sleep-aids are contraindicated, tart cherry juice can be a natural alternative with no side effects.


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