A pilot study found that drinking tart cherry juice in the morning and evening for two weeks extended sleep times for men and women older than 50 who suffer from insomnia by 84 minutes, according to a release from the Cherry Marketing Institute.
Participants were first screened for sleep problems and then given about eight ounces of Montmorency tart cherry juice. Montmorency cherry juice contains the flavonoid phytonutrient procyanidin. A placebo group followed the same schedule and consumed a drink designed to look and taste like cherry juice but without the procyanidin. The cherry juice significantly outperformed the placebo.
"Insomnia is quite common among older adults and it can lead to a range of health issues if left untreated," lead researcher Jack Losso Ph.D., a professor in the School of Nutrition and Food Sciences at Louisiana State University Agricultural Center in Baton Rouge, said in the release. "However, many people are hesitant to resort to medications to help them sleep. That's why natural sleep remedies are increasingly of interest and in demand."
Tart cherries are lauded for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. According to Bonnie Taub-Dix, a registered dietitian nutritionist, they play a painkilling role and can help with post-exercise muscle recovery. And, as this study reflects, cherries are also rich in melatonin, which can help improve sleep duration and quality.
Montmorency tart cherries are the most common variety of tart cherries grown in the U.S. and are available year-round in dried, frozen, canned, juice and concentrated forms. Marketing typically focuses on the tart cherry's antioxidant properties rather than its role as a sleep aid. This makes sense, as antioxidant-based value adds are top of mind for today's health-conscious consumers, especially younger ones. But the promise of sleep is also sure to lure consumers of all ages — if they're not wary of juice's high sugar content, that is.
Tart cherry products on the market today are nearly all juices or sweetened cocktail varieties, the type of products that many shoppers are rejecting because of concerns over sugar levels. The $19.8 billion juice market is expected to decline 7% between 2016 and 2021, a dip that Mintel attributes to this consumer fear. It's possible, however, that a dynamic marketing campaign focused on cherry juice as a sleep aid could capture consumer attention, especially from those suffering from insomnia. It would also be wise to advertise to older demographics, who may not be as dismissive of juice as younger consumers.
This study's findings also point to opportunities for food and beverage manufacturers to add tart cherries as an ingredient to existing products like yogurt to gain a health halo. But food and beverage manufacturers need to be careful about asserting health-related benefits of their products without sufficient science to back it up. The Food and Drug Administration warned the industry back in 2005 about making "unproven claims" online or through labeling claiming products treat ot prevent cancer, heart disease and arthritis. Such claims, FDA pointed out, could violate the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
And while the promise of sleep is not as bold a claim as cancer prevention, manufacturers should still be careful that their claims reflect the ingredient's properties. It will be interesting to see if cherry juice makers begin leveraging this study's findings and if the prospect of some extra sleep will overcome consumer qualms about juice.