Can tart cherry juice, magnesium really help you sleep? Doctors weigh in

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A wellness trend dubbed the “sleepy girl mocktail” is making the rounds on social media for its supposed sleep benefits, which users are attributing to two of the drink’s main components: tart cherry juice and magnesium powder. But do these ingredients really have the power to help put you to sleep?

Though they do have some sleep-promoting qualities, Dr. Steven Feinsilver, director of the Center for Sleep Medicine at Northwell Lenox Hill Hospital, says the major effect of this mocktail is likely placebo.

“Anything that you might take that you believe will relax you and make you sleepy can do so. Sleep is very susceptible to the placebo effect,” he says.

But if you’re interested in trying it out yourself, “there would be no harm in taking this combination at reasonable doses,” Feinsilver adds.

So what’s the hype over these ingredients? Tart cherry juice does have a small amount of natural melatonin as well as the amino acid tryptophan, Feinsilver says.

“Melatonin is a natural product produced by the pineal gland that sends the signal to the brain to initiate sleep. The effectiveness as a hypnotic (or sleep-inducing agent) is fairly small in most people, but this is available over-the-counter — officially as a ‘health food’ — in pharmacies,” he explains. “The amount in cherry juice appears to be much less than this.”

Tryptophan, which many will recognize as the reason Thanksgiving turkey makes us tired, is present in many foods. 

“It can be converted in the body to serotonin, a neurotransmitter (or brain chemical) that might cause sedation,” Feinsilver explains. 

As for magnesium, family physician Dr. Mike Sevilla says some believe it can help “prepare the body for sleep, possibly through affecting some hormones.”

“Studies have shown that a magnesium supplement can help with melatonin production, and many people take a melatonin supplement to help with their sleep cycle,” he says.

If you do plan to try it, however, there are different types to be aware of.

“When looking for a sleep aid, in general, magnesium glycinate is the preferred magnesium supplement because it is more easily absorbed in the GI (gastrointestinal) system,” Sevilla says. “This is opposed to magnesium oxide, which is less absorbed in the intestine, and magnesium oxide is more commonly used to help with symptoms of constipation or heartburn.”

Should you try the “sleepy girl mocktail”?

Before trying any social media health trend — especially those involving over-the-counter medicines, vitamins or supplements — Sevilla says he advises his patients to ask their doctor first. 

“This is because sometimes OTC medications, vitamins and supplements can interfere with their prescription medications and affect their chronic medical problems,” he says. “In addition, people who are struggling with their blood sugar should avoid this drink because it contains a lot of carbohydrates. Of course, this can be avoided by using sugar-free products.”

If you have a sensitive stomach or have a condition like irritable bowel syndrome, you may also want to avoid this drink, Sevilla says.

“One key side effect could be some stomach upset or even diarrhea, especially from the tart cherry juice,” he says. “Another side effect could be spiking your blood sugar level right before bed. Not only could this be a problem for those who struggle with their blood sugar, an increased blood sugar level at bedtime, could itself, interrupt your sleep cycle.”

Sevilla also warns that these ingredients shouldn’t be viewed as a solution to severe sleep problems.

“Having difficulty with sleep not only is annoying but could be a potential serious medical issue,” he says. “In the short term, trying a drink like this might be OK, but if sleeping difficulties have been a long-term problem, definitely make an appointment with your family physician to get to the root of the problem so appropriate treatment can help you.”

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