ometimes my clients complain of insomnia. Some expect that I will prescribe one of the medications they have seen advertised on TV or a heavy-duty sedative/hypnotic like Ambien. Instead, I often ask clients to try adding tart cherry juice to their diet and see if that improves their symptoms. I like to try interventions that have a side effect profile that people can live with easily. It’s even better if my clients can go to their local supermarket and buy something off the shelf that will help them with their situation. I think it helps clients develop the sense that they are in charge of their recovery.
As much as I wish all natural remedies were effective, it seems to be the case that only a limited number of them work when tested in well-regulated clinical trials. Some work in very limited environments such as in a petri dish with some viable cells, but animal experiments and human trials are really the only way to know how something is going to work in the real world
A study regarding the effectiveness of tart cherry juice on insomnia was published in 2010 and can be accessed on the National Institute of Health website.
The study was conducted by the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York. Clients who reported symptoms of sleeplessness were invited to participate in a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. (Double-blind means that neither the clients nor the University knew who was receiving the placebo during the study.)
The University tested a tart cherry and apple juice blend (that I would not recommend, see comments later in this article). The placebo was a Kool-aid blend that was made to look and taste like the cherry/apple juice. The testers were asked to drink 8 oz in the morning and another 8 oz about 1-2 hours before bedtime. The reason for the 1-2 hour timing before bedtime was only to avoid having the client wake up to use the bathroom.
The study found that the tart cherry juice “produced significant reductions in insomnia severity (minutes awake after sleep onset)”.
A more detailed study with similar results was conducted in Europe in 2012. In that study, participants wore sleep monitors and also provided urine samples daily.
The urine samples showed that the cherry juice drinkers had increased melatonin in their systems. Melatonin is a hormone that can is well-known for being effective in producing sleep. Food chemists have verified that a significant amount of melatonin is present in Montmorency tart cherries.
There are several common forms of tart cherry juice. Make sure you check the label to see whether yours is a cherry juice blend that contains some tart cherry juice (not as effective), a “100% juice” blend that is part tart cherry and part other fruits (not as effective), all tart cherry juice (that’s the one we’re looking for in the grocery store), and tart cherry juice concentrate (should be somewhere around $30 for a 32oz bottle on Amazon).
Tart cherry juice has a few ingredients that help with sleep. One is melatonin. Melatonin has been widely researched and is effective at helping people get their regular sleep rhythm on track, meaning that they go to sleep at the same time and wake at the same time every day. Melatonin can also make your dreams vivid! Some good news about melatonin is that it’s hard to take so much melatonin that it would hurt you. Montmorency cherries contain approximately 6 times more melatonin than other kinds of tart cherries (Burkhardt, Tan, Manchester, Hardeland, & Reiter, 2001) so look for Montmorency cherry juice over any other kind in order to maximize your exposure to melatonin.
Tart cherry juice is rich in anthocyanins, which have a number of anti-inflammatory properties. Anthocyanins are a more potent anti-inflammatory than aspirin! If part of the reason you have trouble sleeping is due to aches and pains in the joints or muscles, tart cherry juice can relieve that discomfort. Interestingly, pectin interferes with the way that tart cherry juice relieves pain and inflammation, so it’s probably a good idea to avoid apples (pectin comes from apples) and jelly (jelly is commonly made with pectin) when you plan on using tart cherry juice to promote comfortable rest (Lila, 2004).
If the anti-inflammatory properties of tart cherry juice are more important to you than the melatonin content, then it’s less important to find Montmorency cherry juice. Montmorency cherries have about a third of the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of the other tart cherries (Siddiq et al., 2011).
Melatonin is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory as well. For people with any kind of GI disturbance, melatonin prevents ulcers in the intestines through an antioxidant action (reduction of hydrochloric acid, stimulation of the immune system, the healing of intestinal “skin”, and increasing blood circulation). Because of its unique properties, melatonin could be considered for prevention or treatment of colorectal cancer, ulcerative colitis, gastric ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, and childhood colic (Bubenik, 2002).
In addition to the tart cherry juice available in your local supermarket, there are other ways to consume tart cherries. Tart cherries are available flash-frozen, dehydrated, as juice, and as juice concentrate. ”In summary, all processed tart cherry products possessed antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity, but processing differentially affected phytochemical content and in vitro bioactivity. On a per serving basis, juice concentrate was superior to other tart cherry products” (Ou, Bosak, Brickner, Iezzoni, & Seymour, 2012).
In other words, buy tart cherry juice concentrate from Amazon, but in a pinch you can buy tart cherry juice at your local grocery store,.
If you are having trouble with insomnia, and you live in the Portland, OR area, call Mid Valley Counseling at 503-364-6093.
Bubenik, G. A. (2002). REVIEW: Gastrointestinal Melatonin: Localization, Function, and Clinical Relevance. Digestive Diseases and Sciences, 47(10), 2336-2348. doi:10.1023/A:1020107915919
Burkhardt, S., Tan, D. X., Manchester, L. C., Hardeland, R., & Reiter, R. J. (2001). Detection and Quantification of the Antioxidant Melatonin in Montmorency and Balaton Tart Cherries ( Prunus cerasus ). Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 49(10), 4898-902. doi:10.1021/jf010321+
Lila, M. A. (2004). Anthocyanins and Human Health: An In Vitro Investigative Approach. Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology, 2004(5), 306-13. doi:10.1155/S111072430440401
Ou, B., Bosak, K. N., Brickner, P. R., Iezzoni, D. G., & Seymour, E. M. (2012). Processed tart cherry products–comparative phytochemical content, in vitro antioxidant capacity and in vitro anti-inflammatory activity. Journal of Food Science, 77(5), 105-12. doi:10.1111/j.1750-3841.2012.02681.x
Siddiq, M., Iezzoni, A., Khan, A., Breen, P., Sebolt, A. M., Dolan, K. D., & Ravi, R. (2011). Characterization of New Tart Cherry (Prunus cerasus L.): Selections Based on Fruit Quality, Total Anthocyanins, and Antioxidant Capacity.International Journal of Food Properties, 14(2), 471-480. doi:10.1080/10942910903277697