There is much conflicting information about chocolate and sleep, even by some "trustworthy" sources. Some articles say it is bad for insomnia because of the caffeine in cocoa, or the theobromine. And some say it is great because of the same things. If it's keeping you awake at night, read on...
How much caffeine does dark chocolate have?
Pure cocoa powder actually has about 0.2% caffeine, compared to coffee powder which is about 2.2%. However, chocolate also has sugar and cocoa butter in it, depending on the recipe, meaning even less caffeine. For example, in a 14g bar of 71% chocolate, (*cough* Sleep Bite *cough*) there is about 9mg of caffeine. In a cup of coffee there is between 80 and 120mg, or 10 times the amount of caffeine. So chocolate is not high in caffeine as commonly believed.
The other ingredient of chocolate is theobromine which can be used as a stimulant. But...
Theobromine in chocolate is good for sleep.
Cocoa has about 2% theobromine which interestingly helps sleep.
- Theobromine helps improve circulation, by dilating and widening your blood vessels which improves blood flow, which the brain needs for good sleep.
- Theobromine helps you to sleep at night as it helps to balance brain chemistry.
- Theobromine helps to relax your lungs so you can breathe deeper, which means more oxygen, which means a deeper sleep.
- Theobromine counteracts high blood pressure associated with caffeine.
What else in chocolate is good for sleep?
Cocoa's official name is Theobroma Cacao, which translate's to "food of the gods". It is rich in many nutrients. Some which can help sleep are:
- Tryptophan occurs in dark chocolate. Tryptophan is used by the body to make serotonin, the feel good hormone, and melatonin, the sleep cycle hormone. Melotonin increases when it is time to fall asleep, the core of what is commonly called a healthy sleep cycle.
- Serotonin, the feel good hormone is crucial to balanced mood and low levels are linked with anxiety and depression. Less anxiety leads to better sleep, which leads to less anxiety, which leads to better sleep...
- Magnesium is tied to good sleep. Magnesium is what the body uses to relax muscles, so the body relaxes and deeper sleep is achieved with magnesium.
- The Bliss Molecule, anandamide, is stimulated by chocolate. Anandamide is responsible for the feeling we experience from activities like yoga, meditation, listening to music and general recreation, a sense of bliss; it is the chemical basis for the well known “runner’s high.” Who wouldn't sleep better with a little more bliss in their lives?
Is hot chocolate good for sleep?
Yes, and no. Depending on the hot chocolate. Many options on the market are mostly sugar, like 60% sugar. Then they add milk powder and other stuff which means you are getting very little cocoa powder. It may be preferable to make your own by mixing cocoa powder with some sugar in a cup of hot milk. Or maybe buy a version focussed on sleep. Like, I don't know, ZANG's Sleepy Hot Chocolate with added tryptophan, l-theanine and glycine.
Is all chocolate good for sleep?
No. White chocolate does not contain cocoa powder, only cocoa butter, so the benefits of dark chocolate are not there. Milk chocolate and dark chocolate with high sugar percentages are not as beneficial for sleep as well because of less cocoa powder as well. It is best to go for a high percentage dark chocolate for maximum benefit.
And if this didn't convince you that some chocolate before bed is a good idea, maybe just being in a better mood from a little feel-good snack can help you drift off a little faster.