Having trouble sleeping? Put down the warm milk and raise a glass of tart cherry juice. That's the upshot of new research from Louisiana State University that found drinking tart cherry juice twice a day for two weeks helped increase sleep time by nearly 90 minutes among older adults with insomnia.
The researchers, who presented their findings at the American Society for Nutrition's Experimental Biology conference in Chicago this week, noted tart cherries are a natural source of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle. The new study also showed the red pigments in tart cherry juice, known as proanthocyanidins, help to increase the availability of tryptophan, an essential amino acid and a precursor to serotonin that helps with sleep.
Frank L. Greenway, M.D., director of the outpatient research clinic at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center at LSU, said the findings might point the way to a natural way to treat insomnia, which is linked with chronic pain, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and dementia.
Individuals with insomnia may turn to sleeping pills, but sedative medications can have serious downsides and increase risk of falls in seniors, which makes it increasingly important to find more natural sleep aids, he said.
"Sleeping pills may be an option for younger insomniacs, but for older people these medications quadruple the risk of falling, which can lead to broken hips and, often, earlier death," Dr. Greenway said.
For the study, researchers asked seven older adults suffering from insomnia to consume 8 ounces of tart cherry juice twice daily for two weeks, followed by a two-week period of abstinence, and another a two-week period when another beverage (a placebo) was consumed. Dr. Greenway and his colleagues then monitored their sleep patterns in a controlled setting. The seniors were also surveyed about their sleep, fatigue, depression, and anxiety.
The results showed that when seniors drank the tart cherry juice in the morning and at night, they were able to sleep more than an hour longer each night (averaging 84 minutes) compared to the placebo, and their sleep tended to be better.
Blood tests on the participants also showed the juice blocked the breakdown of tryptophan.
"Even though the amount of tryptophan in tart cherry juice is smaller than a normal dose given to aid sleep, the compounds in tart cherries could prevent the tryptophan from breaking down so it's able to work in the body more effectively," Dr. Greenway explained.
"These compounds may help to improve tryptophan bioavailability for serotonin synthesis, which could have a positive effect on sleep. Increasing serotonin also helps improve mood and decrease inflammation."
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