08/16/2010 07:07 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Can Cherries Relieve Insomnia?

There are lots of drinks that are marketed to do something healthy for you. Drink orange juice if you've got a cold. Try cranberry juice to keep your urinary tract healthy. Pomegranate juice is touted for a dose of age-defying antioxidants. Milk with calcium to build strong bones. And that doesn't include the multitude of vitamin waters, drink mixes and others that you can find on the shelves.

But what about a daily drink to help you sleep? Something made from fruit? And something other than the mythological "night cap" that entails sleep-disrupting alcohol?

A new study by a team from the University of Pennsylvania, University of Rochester, and VA Center of Canandaigua have learned that tart cherry juice might be the answer.

The researchers looked at the sleep habits of 15 older adults who drank eight ounces of tart cherry juice in the morning and evening for two weeks. Then they drank a comparable matched drink with no tart cherry juice for another two-week period. The results? A significant reduction in reported insomnia severity during the weeks when they drank the cherry juice. The adults saved about 17 minutes of wake time after going to sleep, on average, when drinking cherry juice daily compared to when they were drinking the other non-cherry beverage.

So what's the magic in cherry juice? Cherries contain melatonin, a natural antioxidant with a well-documented history of helping to regulate the sleep-wake cycle. Produced naturally by the body in small amounts, melatonin plays a role in inducing sleepiness at night and wakefulness during the day. Though melatonin is marketed as a supplement to help people fall asleep, I'm not a big advocate of going this route without a doctor's supervision. But getting natural melatonin from whole foods like cherries is clearly another story. Our body is likely to use that very natural ingredient from a fruit in a much different way than it would via a pill.

After all, we seem to need solutions for better sleep:

  • More than 40 million adults and another 20 million experience occasional sleep disruptions, putting their health and well-being at risk.
  • Americans spend more than $84 million on over-the-counter sleep aids each year.

If a glass or two of tart cherry juice (assuming you enjoy the flavor) does in fact help reduce insomnia, then this study is good news for insomnia sufferers. Drink up!

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD

The Sleep Doctor™