Millions of people struggle to get a good night’s rest. Soothing music, a cup of chamomile tea, a warm bath—all of these have been tried and tried again by those unfortunate enough to suffer from insomnia. And sometimes they work, but there are other options. One new study indicates tart cherry juice could be another answer for sleep deprivation.
The research comes from Louisiana State University, where adults with insomnia with an average age of 68 were given cherry juice twice daily for two weeks. Their findings, presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Nutrition, indicate that the juice could increase sleep time by almost 90 minutes a night.
Montmorency cherries, the variety used in this study, are a good source of melatonin, the hormone that helps regulate our sleep and wake cycle. This isn’t the first study to identify cherries as a potential sleep-helper, but these researchers wanted to find out how it worked.
They found compounds known as proanthocyanidins, found in the juice, are responsible for inhibiting an enzyme that degrades tryptophan. Tryptophan degradation is a predictor of insomnia, say the researchers.
“Even though the amount of tryptophan in tart cherry juice is smaller than a normal dose given to aid sleep, the compounds in tart cherries could prevent the tryptophan from breaking down so it’s able to work in the body more effectively,” explained co-author Dr. Frank L. Greenway. “These compounds may help to improve tryptophan bioavailability for serotonin synthesis, which could have a positive effect on sleep. Increasing serotonin also helps improve mood and decrease inflammation.”
Greenway and his team suggest one glass of tart cherry juice upon waking and one upon going to bed could be a safer remedy for insomnia than commonly-taken sleeping pills.
“Sleeping pills may be an option for younger insomniacs, but for older people these medications quadruple the risk of falling, which can lead to broken hips and, often, earlier death,” said Greenway.
And sleeping pills aren’t only a bad idea for older populations. Anytime we can “medicate” with food rather than conventional drugs, we should opt for the least invasive and most natural remedy available.