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Tart cherry juice adds to sleep time

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Eight ounces of juice morning and night increases sleep time by over an hour

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Older adults need seven to nine hours of sleep a night. However, for those aged 65 and older staying asleep during the night proves difficult. A 2005, National Sleep Foundation poll had found that older adults (39%) were more likely to say they frequently wake up during the night.

Insomnia is a persistent disorder that can make it hard to fall asleep, hard to stay asleep or both, despite the opportunity for adequate sleep, according to the Mayo Clinic. Persons who are age 60 and older have an increased risk of insomnia due to sleep patterns and health.

Insomnia is linked with several health complications including high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. Some individuals may turn to sleeping pills in order to achieve a good night’s sleep including one-third of older people. Among those who are elderly, sleeping pills more than doubles the risk of falls and hip fracture, in which makes it increasingly important to find more natural sleep-aids without these apparent side effects, said co-author Dr. Frank L. Greenway, MD, professor and chef of the outpatient clinic at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University.

According to Dr. Greenway "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 along with co-authors Dr. Jack Losso, PhD, and Dr. Jack Finley, PhD, professors in the School of Nutrition and Food Sciences at Louisiana State University Agricultural Center., conducted a randomized crossover clinical trial that included seven older adults, median age 68 years, with insomnia.

The participants consumed eight ounces of Montmorency tart cherry juice twice daily (morning and night) for two weeks followed by a two week washout period where participants had consumed another beverage (placebo).

The researchers studied the participants sleep patterns in a controlled setting using overnight polysomnography in order to asses sleep efficiency such as sleep onset and sleep duration. Participants completed questionnaires related to sleep, fatigue, depression and insomnia. All participants had blood work done.

The results showed that those who consumed Montmorency tart cherry juice twice daily were able to sleep over an hour each night (an average of 84 minutes) and had more efficient sleep compared to the placebo.

Montmorency tart cherries contain the natural food source of melatonin, a strong antioxidant that improves the body’s natural sleep patterns. One ounce of the juice contains 4910 ng of melatonin. Previous studies have suggested tart cherry juice has sleep-enhancing benefits. One such study appeared in the Journal of Medicinal Food. In the randomized, double-blind, crossover design study, participants (19 over age 65), received both treatment (juice blended from whole Montmorency tart cherries and apple juice processed to shelf stable conditions and provided by the manufacturer CherryPharm, Inc.) and placebo for two weeks with an intervening 2-week washout period. The results showed the tart cherry juice produced significant reductions in insomnia severity compared to the placebo.

Dr. Greenway and colleagues set out to help explain why. They wanted to understand if the benefits were due to the melatonin content or another component in Montmorency tart cherries.

The researchers believe the ruby red pigments in tart cherry juice, known as proanthocyanidins, also play a role. These natural polyphenolic compounds are especially abundant in Montmorency tart cherries.

In their study the cherry juice had helped to increase the availability of tryptophan, an essential amino acid and a precursor to serotonin that helps with sleep. The juice was shown in cells to inhibit an enzyme (indoleamine 2,3 dioxygenase) that degrades tryptophan.

Dr. Losso and Finley said tryptophan degradation is a known predictor of insomnia and is also related to inflammation.

Dr. Greenway explained "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." "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."

Dr. Greenway believes it's the unique combination of melatonin and tryptophan in Montmorency tart cherries that is likely contributing to the sleep benefits. He and his colleagues conclude that drinking a glass of tart cherry juice in the morning and the evening may be a better and a safer way to treat insomnia.

This study was presented Monday, 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, which is being held in conjunction with the Experimental Biology 2014 meeting in San Diego.

These findings have been submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

The study is registered at ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01669317.

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