Trouble drifting off? It could be time to add a little something to your diet. Forget a whole Thanksgiving dinner — there are other foods that release tryptophan and help you catch some extra shuteye. In fact, tart cherry juice may be one of those foods…and it’s straight from Mother Earth. But does it actually work? There’s actually a little bit of science that says yes. And given that fruit juice is seen as a safe and natural thing to consume, I figured I had nothing to lose! Let’s put it to the test.
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Science-Backed Benefits of Tart Cherry Juice
First, let’s take a look at what the science has to say about it. “There is some evidence of a modest benefit [of tart cherry juice] to help sleep,” says board-certified sleep physician Alex Dimitriu, MD, who pointed to a small study from 2010. It found that while not as powerful as hypnosis and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for insomnia, tart cherry juice did help a little bit. Keep in mind, a cherry juice manufacturer funded this study.
A more recent study showed that “Cherry juice increased sleep time and sleep efficiency” in the eight individuals who completed the trial; their sleep time increased on average by 84 minutes. They posit that it may be due to cherry juice contributing to “increased tryptophan availability [and] reduced inflammation.”
Yet another study from the European Journal of Medicine reported that tart cherry juice concentrate increased the subject’s melatonin secretion.
“Tart cherry juice was one of the key ingredients that got me through pregnancy-induced insomnia,” says registered dietitian Lisa Mastela, RD, founder of Bumpin’ Blends. “It’s why I formulated a sleep smoothie — originally just for myself — centered on this ingredient. It works.”
Is it Safer Than Melatonin?
You might be wondering about the difference between tart cherry juice and another natural sleep remedy: melatonin (I definitely was!). Melatonin is viewed as “safe for short-term use,” meaning you shouldn’t have it every night for a long period of time. Some people have adverse side effects, and it’s also contraindicated with certain medications.
By contrast, not a lot of research exists on contraindications or side effects of tart cherry juice, though anecdotally, some patients report diarrhea if they drink it in excess. In a small amount before bed, you should be fine. But keep in mind that it is still fruit juice and contains natural sugar (and therefore calories).
Knowing the potential benefits of this fruit juice — and its safety profile — I put it to the test over the course of seven nights.
Amount of Juice
The 2018 study used 240mL of juice, consumed twice a day for two weeks (so, two cups a day for 14 days). The EJM study used a one-ounce serving twice per day. There was a pretty big difference between the two (two ounces vs. two cups!), and I didn’t want to drink it twice a day, so I just went with an eight-ounce serving before bed.
I’m not 100% sure if the brand matters, but I ordered what was available from Whole Foods, which ended up being the 365 brand of organic tart cherry juice.
Time Before Bed
There wasn’t a clear direction on when to consume this (and again, the studies had subjects drinking twice a day), so I opted for 30 minutes before bed, which is typically when I’d have a nighttime tea or supplement.
So, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but tart cherry juice did not work for me. I really needed some course correction — my typical 10 pm bedtime had been thrown off, and I found myself struggling to fall asleep before 2 am! I was hoping tart cherry juice would help me get back to my usual shuteye schedule and regulate my circadian rhythm.
Unfortunately, the few nights yielded no results, and I was in serious need of sleep. So, I decided to try a night of tart cherry juice alongside a melatonin gummy… This did the trick! The melatonin left me pretty groggy the next morning (typical for me), so I went back to just cherry juice the next night.
At this point, my sleep was fine, but not particularly deep or longer than usual.
If you need a more potent, immediate nod-off nudge (especially if stress is keeping you from getting a solid night’s rest), a magnesium powder like CALM may help — but it’s always a good idea to speak with your doctor first.
Just being totally transparent: I didn’t notice marked results or major improvements to my ability to nod off in my week of drinking this fruity elixir. Keep in mind — this was a short-term test with so many variables — a far cry from a double-blind placebo clinical trial!
It’s hard to know how much something will affect you in just one week, so to get a better understanding of how this works for my body, I’ll have to continue this experiment a bit longer and perhaps increase my intake. My best guess is that it’ll have better cumulative effects vs. targeted, instant results (like you’d get with a melatonin gummy).
I experienced zero negative effects by adding in a cup of cherry juice before bed — and it was tasty, to boot. Though it’s high in natural sugar (over 32 grams in a cup!) and about 159 calories per glass, I didn’t experience any changes in my weight. In fact, I think it makes for a nice dinnertime drink when mixed with some seltzer water (a tart cherry spritz!) or even lemonade to help promote a healthy sleep cycle.
Will this work for you? Potentially — but I don’t think it has the fast-acting efficacy or potency of a more targeted sleep solution. This may be something to add to your diet to experience more long-term, sustainable improvements to your sleep health.