Tart Cherries Bring Sweet Sleep
misery of insomnia comes in two ways. Some people struggle to get to
sleep. Others have trouble staying asleep. Although they nod off easily
enough, they wake up several times or toss and turn all night.
Melatonin is helpful if you have trouble dropping off. But it doesn’t help if you go to sleep and wake up repeatedly. That’s where tart cherry juice comes in.
But, first, both kinds of sleep problems relate to the one most important question about sleep—are you getting enough good quality snooze?
A person who goes to bed at 10 and lies there worrying about sleep until midnight and stays asleep until 8 am may not even have a sleep quality problem at all. He may be going to bed too early for his natural circadian sleep cycle.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get 7-9 hours of sleep a night. That number is based on research. And it applies to every night, including weekends. For adults over 65, the recommendation is 7-8 hours.
Some of us are outliers, however. There are people who only need 6 hours of sleep per night and seniors who are fine on just 5 hours. It’s not a matter of self-declaration, however, as there seem to be many more people who want to think they don’t need much sleep that are mistaken about how well they are doing.
“Enough sleep” means you wake up refreshed, with your energy restored. Your mental capacities are at full throttle. You don’t require excessive and repeated doses of caffeine to keep going, and you don’t feel tired during the day.
Many people who believe they are fine on 5-6 hours of sleep actually may not be quite as resilient as they think. Research has found that most people who sleep only 5-6 hours per night for sustained periods are not as good at complex mental tasks or at anything that requires sustained attention as they should be. They do better with another hour or two of sleep.
You can also rack up a sleep deficit if you go to bed on time and wake up frequently during the night. Solving that problem the right way is especially important for adults over age 50. That’s because using hypnotics (sleeping pills) increases the risk of falling during the daytime.
In 2018, a pilot study on tart cherry juice revealed extremely promising results. These are not tested in a large-scale clinical trial as yet, but the results were so clearly beneficial they will likely hold up when that happens. In addition, tart cherry juice is so natural and safe, you will not do yourself harm by trying it if you need help staying asleep.
As for the latest research, published in the American Journal of Therapeutics, last year, here’s what happened. Researchers recruited 11 people with sleep problems. They omitted 3 people who had apnea, then divided the remaining 8 participants into two groups. The tests were double-blinded so that neither the participants nor the researchers knew who received what until results were in. Half the participants got a glass of tart cherry juice, the other half a placebo drink for two weeks. Then both groups had a “washout” period of two weeks before they switched. Those who previously got the placebo, got the real juice in the next two-week trial, and vice versa.
A crossover design like that with small groups helps increases the credibility of the results.
And they were impressive. When the participants got tart cherry juice, they enjoyed an average of 84 minutes more sleep per night. Their blood chemistry and lab polysomnography confirmed the presence and benefits of the extra sleep as well.
The tart cherry juice used in this experiment was highly controlled to be sure the contents remained the same from glass to glass over the weeks. Tart cherry juice has several components that probably account for its effectiveness, but the most likely one is procyanidin B-2.
Although this was a small study, two earlier studies along the same design reported similar results. This study has eliminated some weaknesses in the earlier experiments by taking actual measurements instead of relying on self-reported results.
Best of all, if you’ve been tossing and turning you can try this at home without worry. A high-quality, unsweetened cherry juice is easy to find. The 2018 research used the Indian Summer brand. The “dose” is 8 ounces (240 ml) an hour or two before bedtime.