TikTok has gone mad for tart cherry juice as a sleep aid. But how helpful is this supplement if nodding off is a serious struggle?
TikTok has a penchant for ‘discovering’ products and trends that have in fact enjoyed acclaim for yonks (slugging, snail mucin, Clinique Black Honey lipstick…),and it’s no different with the recent craze for tart cherry juice for sleep.
A video by @misalanablack went viral with more than 197k views. In it, she wonders where the juice has been all her life. “One cup, fifteen minutes in and I was done,” she says. “I didn’t wake up once through the night.” Insomniacs the world over took note and started glugging the garnet nectar.
@missalanablack I might’ve taken too much, I didn’t wake up until 10:30 today lmfao 😭 #cherryjuice #melatonin ♬ original sound - Cruz Acosta-Machain
But the syrup or powder concentrate from tart cherries (which are smaller and – obviously - sourer than normal cherries) have long had a reputation for improving sleep quality, among other health benefits including sports recovery. So what exactly is in these little fruits that could help re-sync your sleep cycle and is their reputation deserved?
Is tart cherry the same as normal cherry?
No. What you’re looking for is concentrated juice from sour cherries of the Morello and, particularly, Montmorency variety. These are the ones with sleep-inducing properties. Sorry, simply troughing a punnet from the market won’t do.
“It’s the Montmorency cherry that’s been subjected to clinical research, so that’s the one I focus on,” says sports nutritionist Rob Hobson who helps clients train better with diet. “It’s extremely high in polyphenols, antioxidant plant compounds with a protective and anti-inflammatory action."
As a sports nutritionist who also struggles with his sleep , he’s as much interested in the post-exercise recovery benefits as those for sleep. “Research suggests tart cherry juice can help reduce muscle soreness and increase recovery after muscle-damaging exercise, so it is often taken in a sports capacity,” he says.
What is the dosage of tart cherry to look for?
For both sports recovery and sleep, the dosage seems to be the same: 240ml of Montmorency cherry juice twice a day, equivalent to the juice of 50-60 cherries. For sport, take it for around five days before, and three days after a big exercise event like a marathon to see benefits, one 2015 study into the effects of cherry juice on exercise-induced stress showed.
For sleep, the same dose taken for two weeks in different studies pointed to the tart juice having a beneficial effect as well. “There is some recent research that shows that it may increase the duration and depth of sleep,” says dermatologist and nutritionist Dr Thivi Maruthappu.
However, she cautions, “the studies are very small.” One placebo-controlled study from 2010 concludes that juice a has a modest effect on insomnia in older adults, while a study from 2018 (on eight people) maintains it increases sleep time and efficiency and results in fewer instances of getting up in the night.
Yet another study, from 2011, in which 20 people were given 30ml of juice concentrate (equivalent to juice from 100g of cherries), twice a day for two weeks, found it, again, led to significant increases of time spent in bed, sleep time, and sleep efficiency.
As for what’s on offer in the supplements aisle, the recommended dose of tart cherry concentrate powder or pills most often quoted is 480mg once or twice a day, but concentrations vary wildly and can be as high as 7000mg.
The supplements in our edit below all either have high doses of tart cherry extract or contain it as part of a multi-pronged approach to sleep that includes other known sleep promoters such as valerian, chamomile, passiflora (passion fruit) magnesium, hops and saffron.
What’s in tart cherry juice that helps you sleep?
“Much more research is needed, but it appears that tart cherries contain small amounts of naturally occurring melatonin [the sleep hormone] and tryptophan [an amino acid that helps the body make melatonin and serotonin], so this may be why some people find they help with sleep,” says Dr Maruthappu.
The studies showed that drinking the juice did increase the melatonin levels in people’s systems. But the amount of melatonin provided by their daily dose of tart cherry juice was very small (0.270mcg or 85mcg daily, depending on the study) compared to the typical doses of melatonin that are helpful for sleep (500 to 5000mcg daily). In short, tart cherry juice contains some melatonin but not all that much.
It turns out that the amount of tryptophan is “pretty minimal” says Dr Maruthappu, “at 9mg per 100g. If you compare that to the approximately 400mg tryptophan in 100g of chicken breast, you may conclude there are better sources of this nutrient.”
Turkey is famed for containing even more tryptophan than chicken, while lettuce, milk, nut milks and oats are other sources. But that’s not a reason to dismiss cherry juice for sleep…
Now it gets interesting! It’s likely that another tart cherry nutrient is at work to improve sleep patterns. As Hobson points out, the fruit is high in anthocyanin antioxidants. “It's a family of powerful phytochemicals that fight the effects of aging and oxidative stress,” says Dr Maruthappu. “Some of the many anthocyanin benefits that research has uncovered include fighting heart disease, cancer, memory loss and neurological disorders.”
Research into tart cherry juice has revealed that one of the phytochemicals in this family (Procyanidin B2) appears to stop tryptophan being broken down. In other words, it’s not the tryptophan itself in tart cherry juice that could make you sleepy, but the tryptophan-boosting antioxidants the juice contains.
Tart cherry juice also provides about 27mg of magnesium – about seven per cent of the recommended daily value. Magnesium has a soothing effect on the parasympathetic nervous system, and so can help you fall asleep.
If it’s magnesium you are after, you’d need higher amounts of this nutrient for it to be effective. Dr Maruthappu recommends a magnesium sleep spray such as Better You Magnesium Sleep Body Spray, £7.99 for 200ml, or 200mg a night of oral magnesium glycinate 200mg (such as Nutri Advanced Magnesium Glycinate, £21.95 for a two-month supply).
So should you try tart cherry juice for sleep?
“If you’re having trouble sleeping it’s worth a try,” is all Dr Maruthappu will say. “But there aren’t quick fixes or shortcuts to restful sleep. Prioritise a gentle wind-down ritual such as your skincare routine or a warm bath, avoid coffee and alcohol in the hours before sleep, and limit screen time before bed. If you truly can’t, at least dim your backlight as much as possible,” she advises.
The best tart cherry supplements
Pills, powders and juices – they’re all here to help you sleep
Best sleep multi-nutrient capsule: Earth Secret Sleep Rest & Rejuvenation, £35
Combines Montmorency tart cherry extract (120mg) with camomile and lavender powder and extracts of passionflower and clinically standardised affron (saffron extract), the latter being another nutrient showing great promise as a natural melatonin-booster and sleep enhancer. It’s also vegan.
Best on the-go-sachet for sports performance: Healthspan Elite Performance Cherry, £35.99
Recommended by Rob Hobson (head of nutrition for Healthspan), this contains the juice of about 100 whole cherries per sachet. It’s marketed as a sports supplement (it’s even undergone anti-doping testing) but will have an effect on sleep as well.
The bedtime power powder to calm your nerves: Viridian Nutrition Cherry Night , £29.15
This has 1200mg of extract of Morello cherry, which pharmacist Shabir Daya rates for its “nerve calming properties. They’re also naturally rich in melatonin, but it will take a good week of taking this supplement for your melatonin levels to build up.” There’s also date powder, glycine and magnesium in this supplement powder.
The tart cherry squash: Active Edge Cherry Active Concentrate, £26.99
A bottle of this concentrate (you dilute 30ml with 200ml of water) contains the juice of 3000 Montmorency cherries, giving you 100 cherries per serving, equivalent to the dosage used in the tart cherry juice research.
The hormone balancer for sleep: Unbeelievable Health Bee Rested Sleep Support, £13.99
100mg of Montmorency cherry alongside royal jelly, chamomile, lavender, hops, griffonia and saffron extracts – and there’s glycine and magnesium too. Together, the idea is for these to balance the nervous system and help the body to produce enough calming hormones to sleep soundly.