Ripe for the Sleeping

Using superfruits instead of drugs for a good night’s sleep
By Shelley Alexander, DO

Sleep issues are an epidemic in America. While many people look for answers in laboratories, not enough of us check the local produce section for the path to healthier sleep.

First, let’s look at the commonly used over-the-counter sleep aids like Zzzquil, Benadryl, or Tylenol PM. These drugs are inexpensive and easy to get, and that’s a tempting combination for a sleep-deprived person.

There’s a common misbelief that because these products are cleared by the FDA, they are safe. Unfortunately, this is not the case. These products contain the drug diphenhydramine. With time, diphenhydramine can produce the same symptoms as Alzheimer’s. Are you willing to make that trade for a little more shut-eye?

And then there are prescription sleep aids like Ambien.

According to a 2013 survey by Harris Interactive, only 25 percent of Americans would be willing to take a prescription sleep aid to improve sleep quality. The majority of Americans—71 percent—would rather use other means to get a good night’s rest.

That means 71 percent of Americans are exercising good judgment. The primary reasons for not wanting to take prescription sleep aids are the adverse side effects and fear of addiction.

Ambien has an infamous side-effect profile that includes involuntarily eating or driving while asleep as well as drug impairment lasting into waking hours. Ambien can also get into the wrong hands and be abused.

Fortunately, there are natural ways to cure insomnia. My personal favorite is to consume a few proven sleep-inducing superfruits.

Goji Berries

Daily consumption of goji berries can improve sleep patterns. This high-antioxidant fruit, also known as wolfberry, has been used in the Himalayas for centuries as a traditional treatment for emotional disturbances, including anxiety and insomnia. In a study published by the Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, participants drinking goji reported better sleep, easier awakening, and higher energy levels than people who were drinking a placebo. Goji berries are a rich source of two nutrients that are necessary for healthful sleep: magnesium and thiamin (vitamin B1). The mineral magnesium reduces the time it takes to fall asleep and improves the quality of sleep; it is linked closely with thiamin, which is found in the hulls of grains (but is missing from diets that contain mostly refined grains). Thiamin also improves mood, alleviates depression, and regulates energy levels, which can all contribute to restless sleep.

Montmorency (Tart) Cherries

In a study published by the European Journal of Nutrition, consumption of tart cherries improved sleep duration and quality and appeared to help with managing disturbed sleep. These results can be attributed to the natural melatonin contained in tart cherries. Melatonin helps regulate sleep, but the optimal dosage is just 0.3 mg, according to neuroscience researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Most melatonin supplements give the buyer a large overdose of the hormone which, with time, can lead to a decrease in the amount naturally produced by the body. By contrast, tart cherries provide a healthy way to increase melatonin levels.

Passion Fruit

Passion fruit has a mild sedative effect on the human nervous system, which promotes a feeling of calmness and relaxes the mind. According to the African Journal of Plant Science, it has traditionally been used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and restlessness. It is considered reliable and gentle, without drug-like effects or hangover. Passion fruit also contains serotonin, which helps regulate sleep. The fruit is native to several South American countries, and Amazonian tribes are said to have used passion fruit medicinally for centuries—including as a sleep aid. Passion fruit is commercialized in Brazil under several brands for use as a mild sedative.

Instead of resorting to drugs to end your insomnia, try any of these superfruits solo or in combination. All are healthy and effective, and they don’t come with harmful side effects. Use a superfruit and gain peace of mind—not a foggy head.


Sherry Alexander, DO, is the founder of New You Health Studio in Leawood, Kansas, and is an 11-year veteran of healthy aging in Kansas City. Find her at