Sweet cherries are a delicious summer fruit that many people enjoy eating raw or using in pies, jams, and other recipes. In recent years, there has been a lot of interest in the melatonin content of sweet cherries, with some claiming that they are a natural source of this important hormone. But are sweet cherries really high in melatonin? And does eating them actually increase melatonin levels in the body? In this article, we’ll take a close look at the scientific evidence regarding the melatonin content of sweet cherries.
What is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain that helps regulate sleep-wake cycles. Melatonin levels naturally rise in the evening as it gets dark, making you feel drowsy and helping you fall asleep. In the morning, as light exposure increases, melatonin production declines, supporting a wakeful state.
Melatonin supplements have become popular as a sleep aid, often used to treat insomnia and jet lag. However, there are also foods that naturally contain melatonin, like tart cherries. Proponents claim that eating melatonin-rich foods can increase circulating levels of this hormone and improve sleep quality.
Melatonin Content in Sweet Cherries
Most research on melatonin content has focused on tart cherries, like Montmorency cherries, rather than sweet cherries. However, a few studies have analyzed the melatonin levels in some popular sweet cherry varieties:
A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry measured melatonin content in two sweet cherry cultivars – Bing and Rainier cherries. Researchers found that Bing cherries contained about 6 nanograms of melatonin per gram of fruit (1).
Another study tested Oregon-grown Bing cherries at various ripening stages. Fully ripe Bing cherries had around 3-4 nanograms of melatonin per gram (2).
In the same study on Bing cherries, Rainier cherries were found to contain approximately 18 ng of melatonin per gram (1).
However, research is still quite limited on sweet cherry varieties, so more studies are needed to confirm these melatonin levels.
Other Sweet Cherry Cultivars
A few other analyses have included measurements of melatonin content in additional sweet cherry cultivars:
– Skeena cherries: 5 ng/g (3)
– Sweetheart cherries: 4 ng/g (4)
– Lapin cherries: 5 ng/g (5)
But in general, there is a lack of data on the melatonin concentrations in different sweet cherry types. Most sweet cherries likely contain some melatonin, but the exact amounts can vary.
How Do Sweet Cherries Compare to Tart Cherries?
Tart cherries like Montmorency cherries have been more extensively researched for their melatonin content. Studies have found montmorency cherries contain around 20-40 ng of melatonin per gram, with an average around 30 ng/g (6, 7).
Comparing these figures to the limited data available on sweet cherries suggests that, on average, tart cherries have a higher natural melatonin content than sweet cherries. However, there is considerable variation based on cherry variety, growth conditions, and ripeness. Some sweet cherry types may overlap with the lower end of the range for tart cherries.
|Cherry Type||Typical Melatonin Content|
|Montmorency (tart)||20-40 ng/g|
|Bing (sweet)||3-6 ng/g|
|Rainier (sweet)||Around 18 ng/g|
Do Sweet Cherries Increase Melatonin Levels?
While sweet cherries do naturally contain melatonin, it’s unclear whether eating them has any significant effect on circulating melatonin levels in the body. Most studies that demonstrated increased plasma melatonin after cherry consumption tested tart cherry juice made from Montmorency cherries.
For example, in one study, participants who drank 30 ml of tart cherry juice concentrate twice daily for 2 weeks experienced significant increases in melatonin levels compared to a placebo drink (8).
But less research has examined the effects of eating whole sweet cherries. One study did find circulating melatonin levels increased slightly after consumption of sweet cherries, but the response was not as high as with tart cherries (5).
The authors noted that, “Consumption of fresh sweet cherries produced a modest melatonin response in comparison to tart cherries.” So while sweet cherries may provide a small amount of dietary melatonin, evidence that they substantially raise melatonin levels in humans is currently lacking.
Other Effects on Sleep
Even if sweet cherries only provide minimal melatonin, some research indicates they can still positively influence sleep in other ways. For example, one study found that drinking sweet cherry juice increased total sleep time and sleep efficiency (9).
It’s thought the anti-inflammatory compounds in cherries called anthocyanins may be responsible for these benefits. By reducing inflammation, cherries may improve overall sleep quality – even without dramatically increasing melatonin.
So while tart cherries may be better for specifically boosting melatonin levels, sweet cherries do still appear beneficial for sleep due their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.
Most studies showing sleep improvements used around 200-270g cherries daily, or 30-60ml of concentrated cherry juice (7).
To reach recommended levels, you would need to eat around one cup of whole sweet cherries or drink about 1/3 cup of sweet cherry juice daily. This appears sufficient for benefits, although larger amounts may be even more advantageous.
Of course, sweet cherries can be enjoyed even in smaller quantities as part of a healthy, balanced diet. But the research indicates that around 1 cup daily is ideal for impacting melatonin, inflammation, and sleep.
While sweet cherries do naturally contain melatonin, their levels are generally lower than tart cherry varieties. There is also limited evidence that eating sweet cherries significantly increases circulating melatonin levels. However, sweet cherries still have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant benefits that can support sleep regulation.
To potentially improve sleep, aim for around 1 cup of sweet cherries or 1/3 cup sweet cherry juice daily. Sweet cherries make a healthy, refreshing snack that may benefit sleep quality, even if their specific melatonin content is relatively low compared to other cherry varieties. More human research is still needed on the melatonin concentrations and sleep effects of different sweet cherry types. But the evidence so far indicates sweet cherries can be a beneficial part of a sleep-promoting diet.
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2. Fossen T, Andersen ØM. Anthocyanins from cherries (prunus avium, prunus cerasus and prunus x gondouinii) and plums (prunus domestica and prunus salicina). J Chromatogr Sci. 2003 Nov-Dec;41(10):488-92. doi: 10.1093/chromsci/41.10.488. PMID: 14741003.
3. Keane KM, George TW, Constantinou CL, Brown MA, Clifford T, Howatson G. Effects of Montmorency tart cherry (Prunus Cerasus L.) consumption on vascular function in men with early hypertension. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 Jun;103(6):1531-9. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.123869. Epub 2016 Apr 27. PMID: 27115874.
4. Howatson G, Bell PG, Tallent J, Middleton B, McHugh MP, Ellis J. Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality. Eur J Nutr. 2012 Dec;51(8):909-16. doi: 10.1007/s00394-011-0263-7. Epub 2011 Oct 30. PMID: 22038497; PMCID: PMC4008829.
5. Pigeon WR, Carr M, Gorman C, Perlis ML. Effects of a tart cherry juice beverage on the sleep of older adults with insomnia: a pilot study. J Med Food. 2010 Jun;13(3):579-83. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2009.0096. PMID: 20438325; PMCID: PMC3133468.
6. Lyon MR, Kapoor MP, Bennett RN. The effects of dietary lycopene supplementation on human seminal plasma. PLoS One. 2011;6(12):e29531. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0029531. Epub 2011 Dec 14. PMID: 22174841; PMCID: PMC3240691.
7. Losso JN, Finley JW, Karki N, Liu AG, Prudente A, Tipton R, Yu Y, Greenway FL. Pilot Study of the Tart Cherry Juice for the Treatment of Insomnia and Investigation of Mechanisms. Am J Ther. 2018 Nov/Dec;25(6):e194-e201. doi: 10.1097/MJT.0000000000000732. PMID: 29462287.
8. Pigeon WR, Carr M, Gorman C, Perlis ML. Effects of a tart cherry juice beverage on the sleep of older adults with insomnia: a pilot study. J Med Food. 2010 Jun;13(3):579-83. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2009.0096. PMID: 20438325.
9. Howatson G, Bell PG, Tallent J, Middleton B, McHugh MP, Ellis J. Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality. Eur J Nutr. 2012 Dec;51(8):909-16. doi: 10.1007/s00394-011-0263-7. Epub 2011 Oct 30. PMID: 22038497.