It’s not a new pill or any type of high-tech sleeping aid. Instead, researchers at Louisiana State University have shown that insomnia-plagued seniors can sleep nearly an hour and a half longer nightly by drinking two eight-ounce glasses of tart Montmorency cherry juice daily. The cherries are a natural source of melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep/wake cycle, and the juice also contains proanthocyanidins (a type of antioxidant) that the research team credits with helping to promote sleep. In addition, the constituents in the juice help increase the availability of tryptophan, an essential amino acid that is a precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep. The investigators made the point that cherry juice may be a better sedative for seniors than prescription medications, which can increase the risk of falls and related hip fractures. The cherry juice findings were presented Monday, April 28, at the "Dietary Bioactive Components: Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory Effects of Dietary Bioactive Components" section of the annual meeting of the American Society of Nutrition, held in conjunction with the Experimental Biology 2014 meeting in San Diego. The findings have been submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.
My take? We know that cherry juice can help reduce the pain of arthritis, gout and exercise related muscle pain. The Louisiana State study was pretty small – only seven seniors (average age 68) participated, but its findings are encouraging and it might be worth considering cherry juice to help address sleeplessness, especially for older individuals. I’ve recommended melatonin as an occasional sleep aid for some time. I suggest trying sublingual tablets (to be placed under the tongue and allowed to dissolve); take 2.5 mg at bedtime, making sure that your bedroom is completely dark. A much lower dose, 0.25 to 0.3 mg, is more effective for regular use. I also recommend valerian as an alternative to benzodiazepines and other prescription sleep aids. You can find standardized extracts in health food stores and pharmacies. Take one to two capsules a half hour before bedtime.