Skip to Content

How many cherries does it take to make you sleepy?

Cherries are a delicious summer fruit that many people enjoy eating by the handful. In addition to being sweet and tasty, cherries contain melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep. This has led to the popular belief that eating cherries, especially before bed, can help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly.

But is this really true? How many cherries do you need to eat to feel the sleep-promoting effects? Let’s take a look at what the research says.

Cherries Contain Melatonin

Cherries contain a small amount of melatonin, a hormone produced naturally by the body that helps control your sleep-wake cycles. Melatonin levels begin to rise in the evening as it gets dark outside, signaling to your brain that it’s time to feel sleepy. Consuming foods like cherries that contain melatonin may boost your body’s own melatonin production.

In one study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers analyzed the melatonin content in tart Montmorency cherries. They found that these cherries contain on average about 6 nanograms of melatonin per gram of cherry flesh.

How Much Melatonin is in Other Foods?

To put the melatonin content of cherries into context, here’s how much melatonin is found in some other common foods:

Food Melatonin per 100 grams
Tart cherries 5-10 ng
Sweet cherries 2-5 ng
Walnuts 3-4 ng
Strawberries 1-2 ng
Tomatoes 1-2 ng
Grapes 1 ng
Wine 0.3-1 ng

As you can see, tart cherries have one of the highest melatonin contents of commonly consumed foods. But other fruits like strawberries and grapes also contain small amounts that can add up.

Studies on Cherries and Sleep

Several studies have specifically looked at the effects of consuming tart cherry juice on sleep in healthy adults:

  • In one study, drinking tart cherry juice twice a day for 2 weeks increased melatonin levels and sleep time and quality in older adults with insomnia.
  • Another study found that drinking 1-2 cups of tart cherry juice blend daily for 7 days improved sleep efficiency, with less daytime napping, in older adults with dementia.
  • Drinking tart cherry juice twice daily for 14 days increased total sleep time and sleep efficiency in healthy young and older adults, according to another study.

Researchers believe the melatonin content of the cherry juice is likely responsible for these sleep-promoting effects. However, it’s important to note that study participants drank close to 2 cups of concentrated cherry juice per day.

How Many Cherries Should You Eat?

Based on the current research, it’s estimated that you would need to eat around 100 tart cherries to get close to the amounts of melatonin used in the cherry juice studies. Sweet cherries may require eating even more, as they tend to have lower melatonin concentrations.

Since fresh cherries are not available year-round, some experts recommend taking a melatonin supplement if you’re looking for a sleep aid. The optimal dosage for sleep is between 1-3 mg taken 1-2 hours before bedtime.

Also keep in mind that factors like cherry variety, origin and growing conditions can affect melatonin levels. So the actual number needed to affect your sleep will vary.

Other Benefits of Cherries

In addition to their melatonin content, cherries provide a number of other nutrients and compounds that make them a healthy, sleep-promoting snack choice:

  • Antioxidants – Cherries contain antioxidants like anthocyanins that may help reduce inflammation and protect your cells from damage.
  • Nutrients – They provide potassium, vitamin C, fiber and small amounts of B vitamins.
  • Low glycemic index – They do not cause major spikes in blood sugar levels.

The nutrients in cherries can help support your circadian rhythms and sleep-wake cycle. And their anti-inflammatory effects may promote better rest.

Tips for Eating Cherries for Better Sleep

If you want to harness the sleep-promoting power of cherries, here are some tips:

  • Choose tart cherry varieties like Montmorency which tend to be higher in melatonin.
  • Have some cherries as an evening snack about 30 minutes before bedtime.
  • Aim for 1 cup (about 20 cherries) to get a modest boost in melatonin.
  • Pair cherries with foods like nuts or oats that provide a balanced bedtime snack.
  • Drink some tart cherry juice if you can’t find fresh cherries.
  • Avoid eating too many earlier in the day so the melatonin doesn’t make you sleepy.

Potential Side Effects and Precautions

For most healthy people, eating cherries is considered safe and may have benefits for sleep. But here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Pregnant women should be cautious with foods containing melatonin, including cherries.
  • Those with diabetes should eat cherries in moderation due to their carbohydrate and sugar content.
  • If taking blood thinners, check with your doctor before increasing melatonin intake from foods.
  • Cherry pits contain cyanide, so be sure to remove the pits before eating large quantities of cherries.

The Bottom Line

Research suggests that the melatonin in tart cherries may help promote sleep when consumed in sufficient amounts. One cup of these cherries eaten 30 minutes before bed may help you fall asleep slightly faster and improve sleep quality.

However, keep in mind that many factors beyond diet can affect your sleep. Establishing healthy sleep habits is key for managing insomnia and sleep disorders long-term.

While adding some cherries to your evening routine may provide a modest benefit, make sure to speak with your doctor if you continue having significant difficulties sleeping.