Parents are singing this sour juice’s praises all over social media, but here’s what experts think of the latest miracle cure for your toddler’s sleep problems
For so many parents, bedtime is nothing short of a circus, leaving them as exhausted as their sleep-resistant children. And when kids struggle to get their nightly shut-eye, we moms and dads start Googling. Melatonin! Magnesium! Is it the nap schedule? Do we need to start meditating before bed? Is there some kind of voodoo doll I can use to get this kid to sleep?! When all else fails, sleep-deprived parents turn to social media for out-of-the-box suggestions—or, in this case, out of the bottle. TikTok’s latest magic bullet? Tart cherry juice for toddlers.
I know what you’re thinking. Juice? Yes, juice. Before bed? Uh-huh. Some parents swear that if you want your toddler to go to sleep more quickly and rest more soundly, all you need is some watered-down tart cherry juice, and they’re even turning it into bedtime popsicles, gummies, smoothies, and more. But is this promised sleep remedy actually effective and safe for little kids? We got all the juicy details with help from Pegah Jalali, a registered dietitian in New York City, and Dr. Candice Jones, a board-certified pediatrician in Orlando, FL.
What is tart cherry juice?
Tart cherry juice is, as you probably guessed, a tart-tasing juice made from cherries—specifically, Montmorency cherries, which are native to France and taste far more sour than those sweet Bing cherries you’re used to. According to the Cleveland Clinic, tart Montmorency cherries contain melatonin, a naturally occurring sleep hormone that helps regulate our sleep cycles (and a supplement you might have heard your mom friends talking about). They also contain tryptophan, an essential amino acid that helps our bodies make melatonin.
A no-sugar-added bottle of this biting liquid can cost upwards of $6 for 32 ounces, with a serving size usually listed as one cup.
Can tart cherry juice help toddlers sleep?
The #tartcherryjuice hashtag has more than 60 million views on TikTok, and we’d guess plenty of those are from exhausted parents. But despite the many claims from TikTok moms and dads that their toddlers have never slept better, Jalali stresses that there isn’t any current scientific data studying the effect of tart cherry juice on sleep in children. Gulp. This means that medical professionals shouldn’t officially promote tart cherry juice as an appropriate, effective treatment for littles who struggle to go to sleep.
Related: How to Transition from Crib to Bed without Losing (Too Much) Sleep
Is tart cherry juice safe for toddlers, babies, and older kids?
The fact is, we just don’t know right now. The most current study on sleep and tart cherry juice is from 2012, when researchers had 20 adults spend a week drinking an ounce of the juice before bed each night. In the end, this group slept better than the placebo group, and tests found more melatonin in their urine.
Another study from 2010 looked at tart cherry juice’s effects on a small group of elderly adults who struggled with insomnia. In this population, the researchers found that tart cherry juice did “modestly improve sleep,” but they reported that their “findings may not generalize to other populations.”
What this shows is that there may be potential to demonstrate that tart cherry juice is an effective sleep aid, but with study populations as small and limited as your toddler’s attention span, we can’t generalize the results to the general population—especially kids. This is something that researchers from both studies agree on.
What are the other benefits, if any, of tart cherry juice?
Jalali agrees that the melatonin and tryptophan in tart cherry juice “can help increase sleep duration,” though, again, this isn’t well studied. Upon examination of several bottles, we found that tart cherry juice offers consumers calcium, iron, and potassium. Cherries are also a good source of antioxidants and vitamins A and C.
Beyond this, the sour substance has been used by athletes to help with muscle recovery, thanks to its anti-inflammatory qualities. This has been especially effective after high-intensity events rather than regular daily workouts, says a 2010 study in the Scandinavian Journal of Sports Medicine. It found that when marathon athletes regularly drank the juice before and after competing, they recovered more quickly and felt less soreness and inflammation.
Related: Don’t Give Your Kids These Bedtime Snacks If You Like Sleep
What are the downsides of tart cherry juice consumption?
We empathize with any parent struggling to get their child to sleep. However, Jalali reminds us that the American Academy of Pediatrics “recommends limiting juice intake based on age.” For example, toddlers should only have up to 4 ounces of juice daily, which is half a cup.
Jalali also shares that we need to consider our kid’s oral health. Sugar shouldn’t sit on a child’s teeth all night, so if you’re going to give tart cherry juice a whirl, your kiddo should have some water afterward and thoroughly brush their teeth. Also, as a mom of four, the last thing I want any kid to do, especially a new-to-the-potty toddler, is to load up on a liquid before bed. That’s like engraving a formal invitation for a bed-wetting incident.
Additionally, kids’ interest in a particular food or drink can ebb and flow. If your only go-to for helping your child sleep is tart cherry juice, Jalali says we need to ask: “What will parents do if the child refuses?”
And finally, even no-sugar-added juice is high in carbohydrates, averaging about 30 grams of carbs per serving. Unfortunately, this is similar to the carbohydrate count in a regular soda. Drinking tart cherry juice alone, without any fiber, fat, and protein, can spike and crash a person’s blood sugar, which can make it harder to fall and stay asleep. So one has to decide, do the potential pros outweigh the cons?
What are other strategies parents can use to help their kids sleep?
When a child can’t sleep, there are so many possible explanations. Dr. Jones says some sleep issues stem from “lack of a consistent bedtime routine, a recent nap, a distracting environment, separation anxiety, a scary dream, or sickness.” Other potential disrupters might include a sleep disorder, enlarged tonsils or adenoids, an uncomfortable sleeping environment, and screen time too close to bedtime.
Parents have to become investigators. It’s always a good idea to keep a journal for a few days and try to pinpoint the issue. If nothing turns up, head to the pediatrician for some insight. Dr. Jones encourages parents to ask their doctors for sleep recommendations. She advises us to be mindful of children’s needs to have a “consistent bedtime routine, create a comfortable and quiet sleep environment, turn off and remove distractions such as electronic devices, and resist allowing your child to take a nap close to bedtime.” Be mindful that sickness can disrupt your kid’s sleep, but that “they are likely to return to a normal sleep pattern once they are well.”
It’s not a good idea to put a bandage on a symptom. Instead, you need to get to the root cause and work from the ground up to help your child sleep, ideally with the help of their medical practitioner.
Still on the fence about whether or not to try tart cherry juice? Dr. Jones isn’t convinced—yet. “There are many sleep aides that could help,” she says, “But, like tart cherry juice, many are controversial and unproven.” As parents, Dr. Jones reminds us of our number one job: keeping our children healthy and safe.