Does Tart Cherry Juice Really Help You Sleep Better?
Tart cherry juice is all over social media these days, especially on TikTok. In fact, the hashtag #TartCherryJuice has more than 30 million views on TikTok. Insomniacs of all ages and walks of life are touting the knockout effects of tart cherry juice, claiming they deliver the sleep-like-a-baby benefit without the wake-up grogginess that comes with other sleep aids like sedating antihistamines and melatonin. But does tart cherry juice really help you fall asleep easily and sleep more deeply?
Anecdotal evidence delivers a thumbs up. Some clinical studies suggest tart cherries are a useful sleep enhancer. Also, many doctors and dietitians believe the juice may be helpful as a natural sleep aid when used occasionally.
"Cherries are a rich source of polyphenols and vitamin C. As a result, they decrease inflammation and promote sleep," according to nutritional psychiatrist Uma Naidoo, MD, director of nutritional and lifestyle psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital. In her book, This Is Your Brain on Food, Dr. Naidoo cites 2018 clinical research where a tart cherry juice preparation reduced insomnia in study participants.
That randomized, double-blind placebo controlled clinical trial, which was published in the American Journal of Therapeutics, tested two small groups of insomniacs. One group drank a tart cherry juice beverage in the morning and two hours before going to bed for 14 days while a similar group drank a cherry-tasting placebo beverage at the same times. After 14 days and a washout period the groups switched to the cherry juice or placebo they did not have during the first part of the experiment and repeated the two-week trial. Researchers tested the blood of all participants before and after each 14-day phase and studied their sleep using polysomnography, which records brain waves, eye and leg movements, blood oxygen level, heart rate and breathing. Results showed that the cherry juice drinkers increased their sleep time by an average of 84 minutes as well as improved their sleep efficiency.
"While this is a small study, it provided the first human evidence for cherry juice as a sleep aid," according to Dr. Naidoo.
Much ado about melatonin
Researchers from Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, Food and Science Division, and Pennington Biomedical Research Center also found that the cherry juice drinkers' blood test indicated increased levels of the amino acid tryptophan. Why is that important? Because tryptophan is converted into melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate our sleep-wake cycles, and serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in mood and sleep. More tryptophan means more melatonin and serotonin and, theoretically, better sleep.
Cherry juice is thought to increase tryptophan availability by inhibiting an enzyme called IDO (indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase), which is stimulated by inflammation. IDO degrades tryptophan, so the thinking is that less IDO increases both serotonin and tryptophan and as a result more melatonin.
Other research published in the European Journal of Nutrition in 2012 demonstrated similar results. In that study, 20 people were given either a placebo drink or about an ounce of concentrated tart Montmorency cherry juice in the evening for seven days. Urine tests showed "significantly elevated" melatonin in the cherry juice group but not in the placebo group. In addition, the researchers found that cherry juice supplementation significantly increased peoples' time in bed, total sleep time and sleep efficiency.
An older study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food in 2010 involving older adults with insomnia found that a tart cherry juice blend taken nightly for two weeks resulted in "significant reductions in insomnia severity," compared with participants who took a placebo cherry-flavored drink.
"I've recommended tart cherry juice to my clients as a sleep aid because it contains melatonin and has been shown to help people fall asleep faster and improve the duration of sleep," says registered dietitian and member of the Eatthis.com medical review board Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, founder of Real Nutrition, NYC.
But there are other potential benefits to taking a shot of tart cherry juice due to its unique nutritional profile: It may boost the immune system, improve brain function, protect the heart and cardiovascular system, reduce muscle soreness, and aid in weight management, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
"Tart cherries have a high concentration of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory polyphenols, which help to decrease oxidative stress," says Shapiro. "Those nutrients are likely to be the reason tart cherry juice consumed before and/or after intense exercise has been shown to help speed up recovery and decrease muscle soreness."
"Tart cherries are well known for helping with recovery from exercise," adds Amy Goodson, MS, RD, who is a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics and author of The Sports Nutrition Playbook. It's believed that the antioxidants and bioflavonoids found in tart cherries scavenge free radicals, reduce DNA degradation, and strengthen membranes, resulting in a reduction of inflammation and joint pain. Tart cherries have long been used as a treatment for gout and peripheral neuropathy.
A caveat before you start slugging tart cherry juice at bedtime: Tart cherry juice is high in sugar and may impact your blood sugar. For example, Cheribuni Pure Tart Cherry Juice with no sugar added contains 25 grams of total sugars and 100 calories in an 8-ounce serving.
Some brands contain added sugars that bring total sugars to 35 grams or more, about as much in a can of soda. If you are diabetic, check with your doctor before starting tart cherry juice as a sleep aid and ask about taking tart cherry in supplement form to avoid the blood sugar spike.