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Can Cherries Help You Get a Better Night's Sleep?

06 June 2023

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Yes, they probably can. Turns out you’d need to eat 25 tart cherries or about 100 sweet ones daily to benefit, which is a LOT of cherries. Tart cherries in particular are classified as a superfood, AKA a food associated with reduced inflammation, lower cholesterol, heart health, a strengthened immune system and cancer prevention.

Many foods are healthy, but superfoods are next-level healthy. Superfoods are particularly great sources of antioxidants, which may lower your risk of cancer, heart disease and other diseases and protect your cells from damage; vitamins; minerals like iron, calcium and potassium; fiber, which can help lower cholesterol, control blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of heart disease and flavonoids, (formerly called vitamin P) and which have anti-carcinogenic properties.

Cherries contain melatonin, plus nice amounts of magnesium and vitamins A and C. Tart cherries also contain a little bit of tryptophan, an amino acid that helps in the production of serotonin and melatonin. Montmorency cherries – very sour and tart – are the cherries with the most melatonin. Sweet cherries contain tiny amounts of melatonin.

Melatonin is produced naturally in our bodies. Our brains produce it in response to darkness and it helps keep our circadian rhythms on track. What are circadian rhythms? They’re natural processes including physical, behavioral and mental changes that follow a 24-hour cycle. For example, sleeping at night and being awake in the day is a circadian rhythm related to light. But back to melatonin. It helps us sleep at night and when we are exposed to too much light at night (ahem, screen time), its production can be thwarted.

Supplements containing melatonin are widely available and can be taken an hour or two before bed. These are most often packaged in slow-release tablets containing 2 mg of the hormone. Slow-release formulations allow the medicine to enter your bloodstream gradually throughout the night. Initially, your doctor might suggest you take melatonin two or three days a week. It shouldn’t be taken for more than three months without a doctor’s recommendation.   

If you suffer from poor sleep, you’re not alone. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine tells us that temporary periods of insomnia plague one in three adults. Ten percent of adults experience chronic insomnia, defined as three or more nights of insomnia per week over the course of three months or more. Adults ages 18 to 64 need at least seven hours of sleep per night and maybe as many as nine hours. Those 65 and older may need a little more.

Sleep insufficiency is linked to chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity, depression and heart disease and can also increase your chances of being involved in a car crash or making errors at school or work. In some states (Nevada, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Kentucky, West Virginia, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania), a whopping 4 in 10 adults suffer from short-sleep duration. In Oklahoma, our range is between 34.7 and 36.9 percent. That’s not healthy.  

Tart cherry concentrate was found to yield ‘increased sleep time and efficiency’ in a pilot study reported by the National Institutes of Health National Library of Medicine. It appeared to be particularly good at helping people who experience ‘waking after sleep,’ which frequently occurs in older adults.  While a serving of tart cherry juice does not contain as much melatonin as a supplement tablet, the juice from 100 grams of tart cherries, the amount used in the study, does contain 0.135 micrograms of melatonin. As we learned above, most supplements contain 2 mg, which is much more. Cherry juice also contains tryptophan. That combination could be where its success lies. Thinking of trying tart cherry juice? Don’t choose a variety containing added sugar. If you find their sharp taste off-putting, try capsules containing the concentrate.

Consuming tart cherry juice may have other benefits (it’s a superfood!). It’s quite a trend among elite athletes, according to a post on The New York Times’ wellness blog. The post quoted Malachy McHugh, director of research for the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma at Manhattan’s Lenox Hill Hospital as saying that the juice “affects the body’s ability to recover from hard exertion.” His studies and similar ones conducted elsewhere, report that racers in the annual Hood to Coast 196-mile relay race in Oregon reported significantly less pain after the race if they drank tart cherry juice in the week beforehand. 

If better sleep is your primary reason for considering adding tart cherry juice to your daily or evening health routine, however, here are some other tips you can also deploy for better sleep: 

Be consistent. Even on the weekends, go to bed and wake up at the same time. Some studies, particularly an oft cited one from the United Kingdom, suggest that 10 p.m. is the gold standard of bedtimes. If that time works for you, terrific. If 11 p.m. is better, great. The key is consistency.

Exercise. Regular exercise can help you fall asleep at night. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Just don’t exercise right before bed – that can have the opposite effect.
Ditch the screen time. Because part of what triggers melatonin production is darkness, staring at a light-emitting phone or tablet before bed can thwart its production. You might find yourself feeling more alert when you should be settling in to sleep.

Stay cool. If your body temperature is too warm, it will be tough to fall asleep. The best room for sleep is on the chilly side, say around 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

Lose the booze. A glass of wine after work or a beer or two while watching the game may seem like a great way to unwind and that’s just fine. Be aware, though, that using alcohol to help you sleep doesn’t help you. It may help you fall asleep quickly but it will cause disrupted sleep during the second half of the night.  

Watch the caffeine. Aside from just keeping you awake, too much caffeine can also elevate your heart rate and cause stomach cramps, restlessness and frequent urination, none of which helps you go to – or stay – asleep.

Manage sleep apnea. Not sure if you’ve got sleep apnea? You may want to discuss the possibility with your doctor if you have excessive daytime fatigue, memory problems, headaches, mood swings, trouble concentrating and if you snore.

Get help. We are here for you. The INTEGRIS Health M.J. & S. Elizabeth Schwartz Sleep Disorders Center of Oklahoma at INTEGRIS Health Southwest Medical Center is a dedicated center of excellence and offers diagnosis and treatments for people suffering from sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, snoring, narcolepsy, movement disorders and insomnia. The INTEGRIS Health Sleep Disorders Centers are the only sleep centers in Oklahoma that has all locations accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and are one of only nine accredited sleep centers in the United States.

What Is Your Circadian Rhythm and Why Is It Important?

Best and Worst Foods to Eat Before Bed

INTEGRIS Sleep Disorders Center of Oklahoma