This is precisely why I embarked on a two-week journey to test the effects of tart cherry juice on sleep and muscle recovery and find out for myself if it’s really worth the hype...and the results pleasantly surprised me—well, to an extent.
Why tart cherry juice is good for sleep
In a small 2018 study, tart cherry juice was analyzed for its potential to stave away insomnia in a small group of adults over 50 years of age. These adults were administered a 240-milliliter (about one cup) serving of a placebo or cherry juice for two weeks, twice a day, with a two-week washout. The finding: Cherry juice increased sleep time and sleep efficiency for the participants.
This is because cherry juice has two main compounds—melatonin (yes, like the ones you find in sleep gummies) and tryptophan (aka what’s infamously known as the reason why you fall into a food coma after eating tons of turkey on Thanksgiving). Data has shown that tart cherry juice concentrate provides an increase in melatonin, which is a hormone produced in our brain triggered by light deprivation that’s beneficial in improving sleep duration and quality and may also help manage disturbed sleep.
Meanwhile, researchers of the same study have also discovered that tryptophan, which is a precursor to serotonin, reduces sleep latency in humans at doses of 1.2 to 2.4 grams. Although tart cherries contain only nine milligrams of tryptophan per 100 grams—which might be negligible on its own for preventing insomnia—scientists found that it can interact with other enzymes to increase serotonin, improve mood, and decrease inflammation. In turn, this reaction can further enhance the effects of tryptophan and contribute to the treatment of insomnia.
Aside from its ability to potentially put you to sleep (no, not out of boredom), tart cherry juice has also been shown to assist with muscle recovery thanks to its many antioxidant and anti-inflammatory polyphenol compounds. Researchers found that this fruit juice can lessen pain and accelerate strength recovery after exercise, and decrease blood markers of inflammation and oxidative stress after both strength and endurance exercise. Cue: Your very sore muscles are shouting hip, hip, hooray!
I tried drinking cherry juice for two weeks, and this is what happened to my sleep
Consider me your go-to guinea pig for trying out anything and everything to get better sleep. For this at-home experiment, I started on a two-week journey where I indulged in a two-ounce shot of cherry juice about an hour before bedtime. Although the studies on tart cherry juice called for a much higher dosage, I found that this size portion was all that I could really stomach.
For starters, tart cherry juice is, well, very tart. And although I’m a lover of all-things sour (Sour Patch Kids, ILYSM), drinking any more cherry juice than what I did nightly would be nearly impossible in my book. When shopping around for the best cherry juice, I ended up with a bottle of Lakewood Organic Pure Tart Cherry from my local Sprouts Farmers Market. According to the nutrition facts, it has about 300 milligrams of potassium (six percent of DV), 1.8 milligrams of iron (10 percent of DV), and four milligrams of vitamin C (four percent of DV). I will caution that the juice did, at times, give me a slight stomach ache due to its potent taste. To mitigate these effects, I often diluted the drink with water (hi, cherry water) or simply drank it a little earlier than usual, i.e. closer to dinnertime.
Now let’s get to the juicy part. Did it work or not? Well, if I’ll be honest, I did find that my sleep was pretty consistent throughout the trial. I didn’t have too much trouble falling asleep (once I disconnected from all of my electronics, that is) and only woke up in the middle of the night to use the restroom four times in the span of the two weeks. Although my slumber was disrupted in those moments, I found that I could fall back asleep easily within just a few minutes.
Admittedly, my worse problem when it comes to insomnia is my inability to have self-control and limit my cell phone usage and TV-watching before going to bed. So, it was hard for me to tell whether it was the cherry juice doing its magic or me cutting out my not-so-great sleep-inhibiting habits for the sake of feeling super relaxed and in the right mindset to hit the hay. All factors considered, I found that I did have less anxiety once bedtime rolled around, and I felt slightly more relaxed than usual, and the soreness from my pilates classes wore off more quickly, but again it was hard to tell if it was correlated to drinking cherry juice.
All to say: I probably won’t be singing the praises of cherry juice anytime soon. It definitely didn’t have a negative impact (which is always good), but it wasn’t a magical sleep potion either. My conclusion is that it’s definitely worth a (pun intended) shot and something I’ll likely keep doing only on an as-needed basis for when I’m feeling extra restless.
Sleep on your mind? Here's a few herbal remedies to get more of it:
- Losso, Jack N et al. “Pilot Study of the Tart Cherry Juice for the Treatment of Insomnia and Investigation of Mechanisms.” American journal of therapeutics vol. 25,2 (2018): e194-e201. doi:10.1097/MJT.0000000000000584
- Howatson, Glyn et al. “Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality.” European journal of nutrition vol. 51,8 (2012): 909-16. doi:10.1007/s00394-011-0263-7
- Vitale, Kenneth C et al. “Tart Cherry Juice in Athletes: A Literature Review and Commentary.” Current sports medicine reports vol. 16,4 (2017): 230-239. doi:10.1249/JSR.0000000000000385
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