Tart Cherry Juice for Sleep: Better than Tylenol PM?

Photo credit: TimWilson

While vacationing in Florida at my parents’ house, bedtime came quickly the first night and out came the tart cherry juice. At first I thought my wild parents decided to enjoy another glass of red wine, which I wouldn’t put past them in their rowdy retirement lifestyle that now includes late-night line dancing and swims with alligators. My dad–nutrition questionner extraordinnaire–poured himself a 4-oz. glass. “I’ve had so much trouble sleeping lately and the last few nights with this magic elixir have been amazing!”

We all have trouble sleeping occasionally, and it’s true that foods naturally rich in the antioxidant and sleep hormone melatonin (tart cherries, bananas, tomatoes, oats, rice bran, sweet corn, wheatgrass juice, and ginger) or the amino acid and serotonin precursor tryptophan (soy, almonds, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, spirulina, beans, and tofu) can help our noisy brains take it down a notch when our heads hit the pillow. But, how much sleepy food do we need and how many calories can we afford just to get a good night’s rest?

Since my first pregnancy nearly 7 years ago, I got in the habit of enjoying an open-face peanut butter or almond butter and banana sandwich at bedtime, to not only help prevent a ravenous 3 AM wake-up, but to calm my unruly hormonal brain which would otherwise start recounting 4th grade spelling bees. Since I now chase 3 young kids and dirty dishes from dawn till dusk, falling asleep at bedtime isn’t usually an issue. But on nights when I’m extra “busy,” could tart cherry juice work just as well as my PB&B? This week, I’ve tested it out:

Keep in mind this test was done on an 8-day vacation where the biggest stressor was deciding whether or not to take the morning swim in the backyard pool or the large club poolbut still, there was enough activity that winding down at the end of the day may have been tricky.

How I cherried: 4 oz Very Cherre 15-30 minutes before bed: 65 calories, 10.5 g sugar. Bedtime was 10-10:30 PM. I know it’s vacation, but the kids are up at 5:30 sometimes. Can you blame me?

What happened: Fell asleep within 5 minutes of head hitting the pillow, except the night I had the Dixie Chick’s “There’s Your Trouble” stuck in my head. That night it took 5-10 minutes to fall asleep. No trouble here!

So?: If falling asleep or staying asleep are potential problems, tart cherry juice is definitely worth a try. Even if it doesn’t work, you’re getting a hefty dose of antioxidants, some potential arthritis relief, and half your day’s supply of vitamin C in a low-cal, 4-oz glass. And, there’s a chance having the juice in the AM and the PM may work even better than solely @ bedtime (according to Dr. Weil).

This just in… you MUST try The Sleep Doctor’s Sleep Slim Smoothie courtesy of Dr. Oz. Sweet Dreams!

What other foods or drinks help YOU unwind?

The 5th Food Group: Sleep

MMmmm, sleep tastes so good! In this fast-paced, techno-hyped world, many have learned to run on empty and be ok with it. But, how ok is it to shoot your metabolism in the foot, store fat more easily, and downregulate your everyday speech synapses?

Even as a dietitian (and a bitchin’ one nonetheless!) who finds food as the answer to everything, I might just say that sleep is even more important than nutrition on the path to health and wellness. With a good night’s sleep (meaning 7+ hours), not only will you quiet your case of the “F-its” and choose healthier foods during the day, but your body chemistry will be more cooperative. Without enough rest, your body is stressed, and responds by making more cortisol. This is GREAT if you’re in the jungle running from a hungry tiger. But not if you’re sitting in a PR planning meeting, or really doing anything besides running from a hungry tiger.

The stress hormone cortisol stimulates hunger and screws with your ability to metabolize carbohydrates (thus increasing blood sugar levels which triggers insulin production and body fat storage). Inadequate sleep also diminishes leptin levels, and believe you me, leptin is something you want a lot of. Leptin triggers fullness and essentially tells your mouth that it’s closed for business. And without the right amount of leptin, you’ll crave carbohydrates. Not the kidney-bean-quinoa type, but the twizzler-chocolately-marshmallow-fluff type. Not enough info to put you to sleep? How about how the lack of sleep minifies growth hormones that regulate fat and muscle proportions in the body? (The more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism.) So even if you’re working out, you’re going to have trouble building muscle. Sounds like a deal-sealer to me!

Alas, if you’re wearing your bathing suit all day, chowing down on nothing but beans and veggies, zumba-ing your little tush off, and not reaching your health and weight goals, try checking your sleep meter. You may just need to snooze it to lose it.