pile of cherries to eat for insomnia

Cherries for insomnia: What we know and 7 ways to enjoy their sleep promoting benefits

By Jason Wooden, PhD | June 2, 2020

If you’re curious about cherries for insomnia, you’re not alone as natural sleep remedies have become popular given the downsides of sleeping pills.  There’s growing evidence that tart cherries contain nutrients beneficial to sleep such as tryptophan and melatonin.

And whether you’re looking for a sleep friendly snack or a natural insomnia remedy, you have your pick of delicious ways to enjoy the sleep promoting benefits of cherries.

Cherries for insomnia is not as crazy as you think

As far as ideas go, there’s more to cherries for insomnia than some may think.

Every night as many as a third of adults worldwide struggle with sleep. Since sleeping pills come with serious downsides, why not look at food?

The truth is what you eat in the evening can make a difference during the night.

Spicy, sugary, and fatty foods can wreck your sleep. On the other hand, some foods contain nutrients beneficial to sleep.

So, it makes sense to eat less of the bad stuff and more sleep friendly food in the evening.

Which brings us back to cherries…

We all love them. They’re the perfect blend of tartness, sweetness, and color. As a bite size snack, they’re fun to eat.

Cherries are also high in fiber and loaded with nutrients – vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds, and sleep promoting substances like melatonin.

Delicious, healthy, and sleep friendly…that sounds like a winning combination to me.

Whether you’re looking for healthier snacks that won’t keep you up at night or natural ways to fight insomnia, cherries are worth adding to your list.

Let’s take a look at what we know about how they affect sleep and some delicious ways to enjoy their sleep promoting benefits.

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How do cherries help insomnia?

As far as fruits go, cherries have been linked to beneficial effects on arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, cognitive function, and exercise recovery.

Cherries for insomnia is just another health benefit on the list.

As mentioned earlier, cherries are nutrient dense with dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other bio actives.  Tart cherries are also a good source of melatonin and other chemicals involved in sleep regulation.

Melatonin is a well know sleep promoter.  It’s a hormone made by the pineal gland in the brain and tells your body when it’s time to sleep.  It increases when it’s dark and decreases when it’s light.

Some studies suggest that melatonin is not the only substance in cherries that can fight insomnia.  Anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant nutrients may also help since inflammation and oxidative stress are believed to also affect sleep quality.

Anyway, that’s how consuming a melatonin supplement or melatonin-rich foods like tart cherries can help fight insomnia.

Any evidence eating cherries for insomnia helps?

 Okay, it’s fair to ask whether there’s any proof that eating cherries for insomnia will actually do something.

Several small studies do suggest that consuming tart cherries can help sleep.

In one study, twenty healthy adults were given tart cherry juice in the evening and upon waking.  The servings contained the equivalent of 90-100 cherries. Researchers found that the subjects had higher amounts of melatonin in the body and that they slept better.

In a more recent study, adult subjects were given tart cherry juice twice a day for 2 weeks and tested more rigorously in an overnight sleep study.  The cherry juice supplementation increased their sleep by 84 minutes.

So, these studies, while small and limited, add to the growing evidence that cherries can help sleep.  Larger studies are needed to better understand the effects of cherries on the body.

7 ways to enjoy cherries for insomnia

Now, we finally get to the fun stuff – all the different ways you can enjoy cherries for insomnia.

It’s important to look for tart varieties such as Montmorency or Morello cherries.  They’re the ones with high amounts of melatonin.

cherries for insomnia growing on tree

And you have your choice of ways to add them to your diet:

  • whole cherries, fresh or frozen
  • cherry juice
  • cherry powder
  • cherry liquid extracts

It’s also important how you have them.  You want to avoid spicy, sugary, and fatty concoctions that can wreck your sleep.

So, cherry pies and cakes are probably not the way to go.  That’s more carbs then cherry.

The good news is that there are other delicious and healthy ways to have your cherries in the evening.

cherry on a stem

1) Whole Cherries

You may need to eat more than a handful to get the full benefits, but that’s okay if you’re just looking for a healthy snack option.  If they’re not available where you live, you usually find them in the freezer section for use in your own creations.

bag of dried cherries

2) Dried tart cherries

Eat them plain, add them to yogurt, or mix with other nuts for added benefits. Many nuts are full of micronutrients that support sleep.

Try them in muffins:

Cherry muffins (sugar free)

Chia cherry muffins

plastic bottle of juice made from tart cherries for insomnia

3) Cherry juice

It’s what was used in the clinical studies and can be found in most grocery stories.  Check the label to make sure it’s 100% tart cherry juice with minimal added sugar.

fruit smoothie made with cherries

4) Cherry smoothie

Refreshing on a hot evening, you can use whole frozen cherries, cherry powder, cherry liquid extract to make a delicious smoothie.  You can get the powder and extracts in many health food stores or online.

Some recipes that use whole cherries:

Basic cherry smoothie

Banana cherry smoothie

Vegan cherry smoothie

Healthy kale and cherry smoothie

Healthy spinach and cherry smoothie

plate of salad

5) Salad with cherries

Try adding cherries to your favorite salad and enjoy it as a light snack or paired with a late dinner:

Cherry Summer Kale Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette

Mixed Grain, Cherry, and Snap Pea Salad

Salad with Cherries, Goat Cheese, and Pistachios

Summer Salad with Cherries and Black Lentils

cherry sorbet in a bowl

6) Cherry Sorbet

Sorbet is great as a light healthy dinner dessert or an evening snack:

Traditional cherry sorbet

Honey Cherry Sorbet

Cherry Coconut Sorbet (no added sugar)

Banana Cherry Sorbet (no added sugar)

oatmeal cookies containing cherries for insomnia

7) Baked desserts

Try adding tart cherries to your favorite healthy baked treate.  They’ll work well in a crisp or oatmeal cookies:

Fresh Sweet Cherry Crisp

Baked Oatmeal with Cherries

Pear-Cherry Crisp with Pine Nut Topper

Healthy baked cherry oatmeal

What about cherry supplements for insomnia?

Supplements are another way to get the benefits of cherries for insomnia.

If you don’t have any fresh cherries on hand or you’re just pressed for time, you might find this option more convenient.

Keep in mind that most of the studies have been done with cherry juice.

So, it’s worth talking to a complementary health specialist (i.e., naturopathic physician, alternative medicine practitioner) about the best form, best medicinal dose, and how best to use a natural aid.

They can also recommend a good brand to try.

You can find tart cherry supplements at most health food stores and online.

Which is better for insomnia: tart cherries or melatonin pills?

You may be saying to yourself “why not just take a melatonin pill?”

The short answer is it depends on your situation and personal preferences.

Some people do not like pills, but melatonin supplements do have a place. They’re a natural alternative to traditional over the counter and prescription sleeping pills.

They’re also convenient and pack a bigger punch of melatonin.

And they have been tested in tons of clinical studies for a wide range of uses.

However, if you’re simply looking for healthier dinner options and night time snacks that can support your sleep, cherries make sense.

There are other benefits in cherries you won’t get in a melatonin pill. Often, whole foods contain a variety of substances that support absorption and bioactivity in the body.

Remember all those anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant nutrients in tart cherries?

So, whether you want cherries or a melatonin supplement depends on your goals.

And let’s not forget how delicious they can be.

Other things you should be doing for your sleep

If you’re dealing with ongoing sleep issues, don’t stop with cherries for insomnia.

There are many different factors that can cause or aggravate insomnia.

For starters, it’s important that you’re practicing good sleep hygiene. It’s the everyday things you do that can set the stage for deep restful sleep at night.

For better sleep hygiene, sleep experts suggest you:

  • Keep consistent wake up & sleep times
  • Avoid naps
  • Exercise during the day
  • Avoid large meals, alcohol, or stimulants such as caffeine before bedtime
  • Maintain a regular bedtime routine
  • Avoid using TVs, laptops, or other electronics before sleep
  • Keep your bedroom dark, cool, quiet, & relaxing

It’s also a good idea to see a doctor since underlying issues often cause sleep problems.  Did you know diabetes, heart disease, chronic pain, arthritis, and asthma can cause sleep issues?

You may also be walking around with undiagnosed sleep apnea or another sleep disorder.

Sleep hygiene by itself won’t resolve these underlying health issues.

Sources:

1. “Talking Points”, World Sleep Society website

2. “Sleeping Pills and Natural Sleep Aids”, HelpGuide.com

3. A Review of the Health Benefits of Cherries, 2018, Nutrients (3): 368.

4. “Melatonin and Sleep”, National Sleep Foundation website

5. Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality, 2011, Eur J Nutr 51(8):909-16.

6. Pilot Study of Tart Cherry Juice for the Treatment of Insomnia and Investigation of Mechanisms, 2019, Am J Ther. 25(2): e194–e201.

8. “The Evidence on Melatonin for Insomnia”, 2018, Psychology Today website

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