May 30, 2023
People who struggle to fall asleep often have a bevy of sleep tips at their disposal, from taking melatonin supplements to avoiding screens at night. But those who keep their phones on in bed may have seen the latest natural sleep aid being discussed on TikTok: tart cherry juice.
While research into the juice has grown gradually over the last decade, a viral TikTok trend has increased the juice's popularity. Some users are drinking the "sleepy girl mocktail," a mixture of tart cherry juice, magnesium powder and Olipop, a low-sugar, high-fiber alternative to traditional soda; one video of the concoction has garnered more than 1.4 million views and hundreds of comments about its effectiveness.
Others are "testing" tart cherry juice on their fussy toddlers and spouses, posting recipes for tart cherry juice gummies and attempting to find a healthy water-to-juice dilution for children. A few users are trying it when experiencing aches and pains associated with the menstrual cycle.
While tart cherry juice has been heralded on social media as a miracle, the reason for its effectiveness is quite simple. Cherries are rich in melatonin, a hormone produced in the brain that is beneficial for sleep. It's often found in over-the-counter sleep supplements, the use of which has been on the rise in recent years.
"Tart cherries have a lot of melatonin in them — so do black walnuts," Christopher Winter, a neurologist and sleep medicine physician at Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine, told SELF. "Is (cherry juice) going to knock you out? No. But if you have to eat or drink something before bed, I think tart cherry juice is a fantastic thing to use. If somebody is interested in seeing if it could help, it's more benign than many other things out there."
Winter noted that plenty of people actually harm their sleep each night by consuming alcohol or fried foods. Bananas, walnuts, turkey and milk are often recommended as sleep-promoting foods, while insomniacs are urged to avoid spicy foods, chocolate and citrus fruits before heading off to sleep, according to Headspace.
Aside from being rich in melatonin, tart cherry juice is also rich in tryptophan, an amino acid that produces melatonin. As it is found in turkey, it is often attributed to the sleepiness felt after eating a massive Thanksgiving feast, according to U.S. News and World Report.
Tart cherry juice is most helpful in those who lack natural melatonin, though increasing the levels of both melatonin and tryptophan may help people drift off faster, Deborah Cohen, an associate professor of clinical and preventative nutrition sciences at Rutgers University, told SELF.
Studies conducted on the impacts of tart cherry juice on sleep promotion are limited and have often used small participant groups. A 2012 study of 20 people who drank tart cherry juice concentrate or a placebo before bed found that those who drank the juice had elevated levels of melatonin in their urine compared with the placebo group. A 2018 study with older adults found that drinking tart cherry juice in the morning and evening for two weeks increased sleep time by about 84 minutes, noting that in addition to increasing sleep time and efficiency, it may be "partially responsible for improvement in insomnia."
In addition to moderate sleep benefits, tart cherry juice has been linked to improved muscle recovery, lower blood pressure, improved brain health and reduced pain and stress.
Still, the juice may not be for everyone. It can be highly acidic, meaning those with acid reflux may struggle to drink it. Acidic foods can also impact tooth enamel, so those planning to try it may need to dilute it with water, CNBC reported. And overuse of tart cherry juice may cause stomach pains and diarrhea due to its high sorbitol content, according to Livestrong, which can be especially rough for people with irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn's disease.
Bonnie Taub-Dix, a registered dietician, nutritionist and author of "Read It Before You Eat It," told TODAY that though tart cherries may help with sleep, the high sugar concentration can have negative effects on blood sugar, especially in those with diabetes. Selecting a juice brand that doesn't have added sugars and pairing the drink with a snack of cheese or almonds — which are also high in trytophan and melatonin — could balance out the negatives.
"Not only will you be calming down the effect of the juice in terms of your blood sugar because having it with cheese or almonds helps to slow down the effects of the blood sugar rise, but that could also boost your ability to fall asleep," Taub-Dix said.
While tart cherry juice is not a one-size-fits-all solution for insomnia, it may help people looking for a sleep aid. As with all of TikTok's health trends, independent research into possible drawbacks and asking a doctor for advice can help people stay safe, according to Cleveland Clinic.