Can't Sleep?
Drink Tart Cherry Juice

Drinking tart cherry juice daily could help reduce the severity of insomnia and time spent awake after going to sleep, according to a study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food.

A team of University of Pennsylvania, University of Rochester and VA Center of Canandaigua researchers conducted a pilot study on the sleep habits of 15 older adults. The adults drank 8 ounces of tart cherry juice beverage in the morning and evening for 2 weeks, and a comparable matched juice drink, with no tart cherry juice, for another 2 week period. There were significant reductions in reported insomnia severity and the adults saved about 17 minutes of wake time after going to sleep, on average, when drinking cherry juice daily, compared to when they were drinking the juice drink. 

Ongoing sleep issues plague more than 40 million adults and another 20 million experience occasional sleep disruptions, putting their health and wellbeing at risk, and leaving many Americans on a quest for sleep solutions, according to the National Institutes of Health. Americans spend more than $84 million on over-the-counter sleep aids each year.

The researchers suspect tart cherries' natural benefits could be due in part to their relatively high content of melatonin – a natural antioxidant in cherries with established ability to help moderate the body's sleep-wake cycle. Produced naturally by the body in small amounts, melatonin plays a role in inducing sleepiness at night and wakefulness during the day.

One of the world's leading authorities on melatonin, Dr. Russel J. Reiter, says while melatonin supplement pills have been heavily promoted as a sleep aid, foods such as cherries – available year-round as dried, frozen and juice – may be a better alternative for boosting the body's own supply of melatonin: "When consumed regularly, tart cherries may help regulate the body's natural sleep cycle and increase sleep efficiency, including decreasing the time it takes to fall asleep. And, because cherries are so rich in other antioxidants, such as anthocyanins, you get other important health benefits."

Not only is melatonin linked to sleep, but research suggests melatonin can be a powerful antioxidant, helping reduce age-related inflammation and fighting free radicals in the body. Beyond melatonin, cherries are packed with other powerful antioxidant compounds, including anthocyanins – the compounds responsible for cherries' bright red color. A growing body of science indicates that cherries may help reduce inflammation, aid muscle recovery and reduce risk factors of age-related conditions.

The Cherry Marketing Institute

Pigeon WR, Carr M, Gorman C, Perlis ML. Effects of tart cherry juice beverage on the sleep of older adults with insomnia: a pilot study. Journal of Medicinal Food. 2010;13:579-583.

Hossain JL, Shapiro CM. The prevalence, cost implications, and management of sleep disorders: an overview. Sleep and Breathing. 2002;6:85-102.

Wide Awake
Wide Awake
A Memoir of Insomnia
by Patricia Morrisroe

Authored by a fourth generation insomniac, this book is both a memoir and a journalistic report on the study of sleep, including recent findings, theories and therapies.

Much of the text is autobiographical, recounting Morrisroe's visits with therapists, psychics, hypnotists, mattress salespeople and others in her laborious pursuit of a good night's sleep.

"People have been searching for ways to induce what Shakespeare called the 'honey-heavy dew of slumber' for as long as they've been able to harvest medicinal plants," Morrisoe writes in a chapter on the effectiveness, risks and side effects of sleeping pills.

The other 11 chapters describe visits to a sleep lab, a trip to Las Vegas to attend a sleep disorders conference for medical professionals, a long night in Lapland's Icehotel inside the Arctic Circle, and a session with a hypnotherapist.

Insomnia, she discovers, is a poorly understood affliction with vague symptoms and few specialists. It affects a much smaller population than sleep apnea, which has become the focus of most sleep doctors since the invention of the CPAP machine in 1981.

When she tells her own sleep doctor in Manhattan about her plan to write a book about her experiences, he tells her it is a terrible idea.

"He wonders if the only reason I went to a sleep clinic was to gather information for my book. I explain that I went to his sleep clinic because I wanted to sleep, not because I wanted to write about sleep. The book came later. Things get tense. I don't blame the doctor for being upset. He has a reputation to protect and doesn't want me to dissuade people from going to a sleep clinic. I explain that I'm only writing about my experience. and each person is different, but the doctor suggests I might be really different."

After all her travels, Morrisroe's personal quest is finally resolved with Chinese breathing exercises and meditation at the 92nd Street Y just around the corner from her apartment in New York City.