Life is a Bowl of Cherries When You Get a Good Night’s Sleep

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Cherry Crisp 012edited2Chronic insomnia is a burden for anyone, but among the elderly it’s of particular concern because it can aggravate existing health conditions and lead to cognitive decline and injuries. Exactly what percentage of the elderly suffers from insomnia is not known, largely because there is no exact definition of it among either researchers or their subjects, but it is clear that it is widespread. The National Institute on Aging’s Established Populations for Epidemiologic Studies of the Elderly estimated 42% of community-dwelling seniors have insomnia.

Sleeping pills are a solution for younger people, but for older people such medication can quadruple the risk for falling, leading to serious fractures, including broken hips, which can be lethal. But, a recent study shows there may be a simple safe, alternative. Research conducted by the Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University shows that drinking a glass of tart cherry juice in the morning and at night can increase sleep time by almost 90 minutes among older insomniacs.

For the study, seven insomniacs with an average age of 68, drank 8 ounces of Montmorency tart cherry juice twice a day for two weeks, then abstained from the juice for two weeks after which they drank a placebo beverage for two weeks. The subjects were studied in a controlled setting using polysomnography to measure onset and duration of sleep. The results showed that those who drank the cherry juice slept more than an hour longer each night (averaging 84 minutes) compared to those who drank the placebo.

Why does the cherry juice work? Montmorency tart cherries are a natural source off melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle. But the researchers believe that the red pigments known as proanthocyanidins, which are especially abundant in these cherries, increases the availability of tryptophan, an amino acid that helps with sleep. So, even though the amount of tryptophan in the cherry juice is smaller than a normal dose that would be given to aid sleep the compounds found in the cherries prevent it from breaking down, making it more effective.

Not crazy about cherry juice? There’s hope for you, too. A recent Chinese study showed that eating two kiwi fruits an hour before bedtime increased sleep time by 13% and decreased waking periods by 29%. Prefer seaweed to cherries or kiwis? Incorporate this omega-3 DHA-rich plant into your dinner. An Oxford University study showed that it helped children get an extra hour of sleep.

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