It’s been known for some years now that consumption of cherries, sweet and especially sour or tart cherries, as either fresh fruit or fruit juice, improves sleep. While only small studies have been conducted up to this point, there is strong preliminary evidence of the benefits of eating cherries and drinking cherry juice for sleep. Among the positive effects, existing research indicates the fruit increases sleep time by up to an hour and a half and may potentially also indirectly improve sleep quality in some subjects by reducing muscle pain and soreness, joint swelling and pain brought on by inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and lowering high blood pressure which is conducive to relaxation and more restful sleep.
How do cherries help you sleep?
Cherries help you sleep in a number of ways. That is, their benefits for sleep are a result of a synergistic effect that several essential nutrients and other components occurring naturally in the fruit contribute to. For one, cherries are a modest source of potassium and magnesium, two electrolytes with a direct and meaningful impact on blood pressure and nervous system health. Cherries are also a source of melatonin, the plant form of the hormone produced in the human pineal gland in the brain for the purpose of regulating sleep-wake cycles, among other functions. The fruit is also a source of antioxidants with strong anti-inflammatory properties, notably anthocyanins, as well as contains trace amounts of the essential amino acid tryptophan for the production of melatonin. Read in more detail below.
(1) Cherries and potassium content
One way cherries help you sleep is with the help of the mineral and electrolyte potassium. The potassium content of cherries ranges from 222 mg in raw, sweet cherries to 173 mg in raw, sour or tart cherries. The average adult requires about 4700 mg of potassium a day (or 4.7 grams). A little over 200 g of raw, sweet cherries provides about 10% of the daily requirements of potassium for the average adult. About 275 g of raw, tart cherries provides the same amount of the mineral. Among its many functions in the human body, potassium relieves pressure in blood vessels which contributes to better blood pressure numbers.
Furthermore, potassium coordinates nervous system activity and regulates muscle function, including heart muscle function, with direct benefits for arrhythmia. Lastly, potassium helps muscles contract and relax as a result of its electrolyte properties and can help combat and reduce muscle cramps at night such as nighttime leg cramps or cramps under the chin and muscle aches and pains in general. All of these functions combined are at least partially conducive to restful sleep. Eating over 200 g of cherries or drinking a glass of fresh cherry juice or cherry juice from cherry concentrate at least 2 hours before going to sleep can help you sleep better.
(2) Cherries and magnesium content
Like potassium, magnesium too has a direct and meaningful impact on the nervous and cardiovascular systems and heart and muscle function. For one, magnesium acts as an electrolyte and helps regulate cardiovascular function and heart electrical activity, with benefits for high blood pressure and arrhythmia, two cardiovascular problems that contribute to unrestful sleep, sleeplessness and sleep problems such as insomnia. Magnesium further regulates muscle function and is especially good for muscle relaxation, reducing nighttime muscle cramps, aches and pains which is good for restful sleep. Lastly, the mineral has a direct action on the nervous system, reducing stress and anxiety and promoting relaxation which is conducive to better, more restful sleep. Foods that naturally contain magnesium such as nuts and seeds (e.g. almonds, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds), but also cherries are a good sleep aid.
The magnesium content of cherries ranges from 11 mg in raw, sweet cherries to 9 mg in raw, sour or tart cherries. The average adult male requires about 400 mg of potassium a day, while the average adult female about 310 mg of the mineral. It’s true that cherries and cherry juice are not quite the best food source of magnesium (nuts and seeds are). Even so, regular consumption is sure to contribute to daily requirements and provide visible benefits for sleep and relaxation in general, especially in individuals with a magnesium deficiency or increased requirements of the mineral. But if you are not meeting your daily requirements from dietary sources, supplementation is both recommended and accessible. Read here about the different magnesium forms and which to choose for the most benefits for sleep, muscle cramps and muscle relaxation and anxiety.
(3) Cherries and tryptophan
Do cherries have tryptophan? Yes, they do. What is tryptophan more exactly? To keep it simple, tryptophan is an amino acid that makes up protein. More important, tryptophan is an essential amino acid which means it is vital to sustaining life. But because it cannot be synthesized by the human body, it needs to be consumed from the diet. As mentioned earlier, tryptophan makes up protein so it stands to reason that the best food sources of tryptophan are foods high in protein such as meats, fish, eggs, cheese and other dairy and, to a lesser extent, some grains and fruits. Among its many functions in the human body, tryptophan is essential for the synthesis of melatonin for sleep. Melatonin is a hormone produced in the human brain that regulates sleep-wake cycles and, implicitly, sleep patterns, but also blood pressure.
- How much tryptophan in cherries?
A serving of 100 g of raw, sweet cherries provides approximately 0.009 g of tryptophan, or 9 milligrams. About as much tryptophan as in bananas, for example. By comparison, original Parmesan cheese has 0.48 to 0.56 g of tryptophan/100 g, uncooked chicken legs with skin have 0.17 g of the amino acid, while uncooked ground turkey meat 220 g. The average adult requires about 5 mg of tryptophan per kilogram/kg a day. So an adult weighing 70 kilograms will need 70 kg X 5 mg of tryptophan/day or 350 mg. Or 38.88 100 g servings of cherries. There are definitely a lot of better food sources of tryptophan than cherries, but the content of tryptophan in cherries is one of the ways the fruit is believed to help with sleep problems and promote sleep.
(4) Cherries and melatonin content
Of all the ways cherries help you sleep, the melatonin content of the fruit is the aspect most studies focus on. The melatonin content of cherries is an important area of interest with regards to sleep problems because of the role of melatonin in regulating sleep-wake cycles and the biological clock. Eating cherries, especially the tart variety, and drinking tart cherry juice has been shown to increase melatonin concentrations. Eating tart cherries and drinking tart cherry juice 2-3 hours before bedtime is believed to act as a sleep aid.
- What is melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone, a neurohormone to be more exact. It is produced in the human brain by the pineal gland which is an endocrine-type gland, hence the name neurohormone. Melatonin is known to regulate sleep-wake cycles, but also other rhythmic patterns of the biological clock such as eating or physiological changes such as changes in body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure as well as vital cellular processes (e.g. immune system-related processes). The production of melatonin in the brain is increased during sleep and greatly reduced during wakefulness. Melatonin is also present in plants and foods where it functions as a plant defense mechanism against environmental stress factors (e.g. high temperatures, high salinity, drought) and regulates growth and photosynthesis.
- Do cherries have melatonin? The answer is yes, both sweet and sour or tart cherries have melatonin.
- Does cherry juice contain melatonin? Yes, it does. Studies show sour or tart cherry juice as an important source of melatonin, whereas the presence of melatonin in sweet cherry juice is inferred from research on tart cherries and tart cherry juice.
- How much melatonin is in cherries? The exact amount of melatonin in cherries is variable between different species (sweet vs tart cherries) and between the same species depending on growing conditions. At this time, it is reported that tart cherries and tart cherry juice contain more melatonin than sweet cherries and sweet cherry juice.
- How much melatonin is in tart cherries and tart cherry juice? According to one study, 30 ml of sour or tart cherry juice concentrate from the variety known as Montmorency cherry (estimated to contain the equivalent of approximately 90–100 cherries) provided approximately 42.6 mcg (micrograms) of melatonin. According to another study, tart cherries of the Montmercy variety contain 13.46 nano-grams (ng) of melatonin per gram, whereas tart cherries of the Balaton variety contain around 6 times less melatonin (2.06 ng/g).
Note: Melatonin supplements for sleep typically have a starting dose of 0.5 mg or 5 mg a day.
(5) Cherries and antioxidant content
Another way cherries help you sleep is with the help of their anthocyanin antioxidants content. Anthocyanins are antioxidants with red, blue, purple and black pigmentation and occur in generous amounts in plants and foods with a dark color such as black carrots, aronia berries or chokeberries, black tomatoes and sweet and tart cherries, especially black cherries. Anthocyanins have proven antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects and eating foods rich in anthocyanins such as cherries has been shown to significantly reduce inflammation markers in the body and contribute to pain relief from inflammatory conditions, among other benefits. Research shows anthocyanins accumulate in tissues and can even cross the blood-brain barrier which would explain their wide range of action and extensive benefits.
By reducing inflammation markers, lipid peroxidation and activating antioxidant pathways, tart cherry juice promotes a faster recovery after intense physical exercise as well as reduces inflammation associated with muscle damage from exercise (source). Consumption of cherry juice further reduces muscle damage associated with strenuous physical exercise (source). Regular cherry and cherry juice consumption is also associated with a reduction in gout flareups and arthritis attacks.
By reducing muscle soreness and muscle damage as a result of intense physical exercise and exerting reparative and anti-inflammatory effects that reduce the incidence of gout attacks and arthritis joint swelling and pain, cherries indirectly improve quality of life and, by extension, also quality of sleep.
How much better do you sleep?
Consumption of cherries and cherry juice as a sleep aid has been shown to improve sleep markers such as wake time after sleep onset (or the number of minutes a person is awake, starting from when they first fall asleep to when they become fully awake and do not try to go back to sleep). Eating cherries or drinking cherry juice can help increase total sleep time by up to 90 minutes as well as improve quality of sleep by lowering blood pressure, regulating heart rate and reducing stress and anxiety and muscle and joint aches and pains owed to inflammation. To get the most benefits for sleep, the fruit and its juice are to be consumed twice a day, such as in the morning and evening, or once a day, before bedtime. Amounts such as 200 g of fresh fruit or 8 ounce juice servings are known to produce effects. If you eat cherries or drink cherry juice in the evening, make sure it’s 2-3 hours before bed to reduce the chances of side effects such as acid reflux and heartburn that could affect sleep quality.