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Melatonin in tart cherry juice acts as benign sleep aid, UK study suggests

  [ 33 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ] • December 10, 2011

Two 1-ounce servings a day (juice of about 200 tart cherries) raised melatonin levels significantly, improved sleep, lengthened sleep time an average of 39 minutes, and reduced daytime napping

Americans seeking a better night's sleep may need to look no further than tart cherry juice, according to a new study published Oct 30 in the European Journal of Nutrition - "Effect of tart cherry juice on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality."

An international team of researchers found that when adults had two daily glasses of tart cherry juice, they slept 39 minutes longer on average, and had up to 6% increase in overall sleep efficiency (significantly less non-sleep time in bed).

In a double blinded placebo controlled study conducted at Northumbria University, for 7 days, 20 healthy adults drank either:

• Two servings of tart cherry juice concentrate daily – upon wakening, and before bed. Each serving was 30mL, or roughly 1 liquid ounce, of 100% pure Montmorency juice concentrate, diluted in a half pint of water…

• Or the same amounts of a non-cherry fruit drink (the comparison group).

The researchers tracked participants’ sleep habits, and found that:

• The participants who drank the cherry juice experienced significant improvements in sleep behaviors, most notably longer sleep time, less daytime napping and increased overall sleep efficiency (the ratio of time spent in bed to time spent sleeping)

• While the non-cherry juice drinkers experienced no change in sleep measures.

The same results were found when the two groups 'crossed over' - with the cherry juice group taking the placebo fruit drink, and vice versa.

Sleep Benefit Attributed to High Melatonin Content

The researchers also tracked by melatonin levels of study participants, since tart cherries are high in melatonin – a powerful antioxidant critical for sleep-wake cycle regulation.

Each serving of the tart cherry juice concentrate was estimated to contain the equivalent of 90 to 100 tart cherries, providing a significant level of melatonin in the juice. And ultimately in the bodies of the tart juice drinkers – total melatonin content was significantly elevated in the cherry juice group, and remained unchanged in the placebo group.

Previous research has supported the benefits of tart cherries as a sleep aid – a potentially wide-reaching benefit since nearly one-third of all Americans suffer from sleep disturbances affecting their health and wellbeing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.(2,3)

Currently, Americans spend more than $84 million on over-the-counter sleep aids each year, leaving many searching for cost-effective ways to help manage their conditions.(4)

While more research is necessary before medical professionals turn to cherries as a sole treatment for sleep disorders, the scientists conclude that tart cherry juice concentrate could be a viable "adjunct intervention for disturbed sleep across a number of scenarios."

Anthocyanin Compounds Too

Tart cherries in their various forms are rich in other powerful antioxidant compounds, including anthocyanins – the compounds responsible for cherries' bright red color, and believed to be key to helping the body relieve inflammation.

In addition to a growing body of evidence supporting the benefits of tart cherry juice as a sleep aid, research indicates that tart cherries may help the body relieve inflammation related to arthritis, heart disease and exercise-related muscle pain.


1. "Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality." European Journal of Nutrition. 2011 Oct 30. Howatson G, Bell PG, Tallent J, Middleton B, McHugh MP, Ellis J.

2. "Effects of tart cherry juice beverage on the sleep of older adults with insomnia: A pilot study." Journal of Medicinal Food. 2010;13:579-583. Pigeon WR, Carr M, Gorman C, Perlis ML.

3. "Unhealthy sleep-related behaviors – 12 states, 2009." Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. March 4, 201160(08);233-238 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

4. Hossain JL, Shapiro CM. "The prevalence, cost implications, and management of sleep disorders: An overview." Sleep and Breathing. 2002;6:85-102.

Sources: Based on Weber Shandwick Worldwide press release, Dec 8, 2011; European Journal of Pain.

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