Does chocolate really stop you sleeping?

chocolate

World Chocolate Day falls on 7th July, but what impact does the nation’s favourite sweet treat have on your sleep health?

Despite an ongoing national trend for healthier eating, chocolate continues to hold a special place in the hearts of adults and children alike. In fact, the UK has the seventh highest consumption of chocolate in the world, with the average Brit eating 17.49lbs of chocolate per year, according to The World Atlas of Chocolate.

The UK chocolate industry is worth a huge £3.96 billion, and remains many people’s guilty pleasure of choice. What’s more, 22% of all chocolate consumed is done so between 8pm and midnight. However, as awareness of health, wellbeing and self-care becomes more ingratiated in our daily decision making, this World Chocolate Day it’s important to explore the effects that chocolate might be having on your sleep quality.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends avoiding chocolate before bed, along with coffee, tea and soft drinks, but what effect does the sweet stuff really have on your ability to get a good night’s rest?

Chocolate and sleep

It might awaken the taste buds, but some people report that chocolate has a less pleasant effect as it keeps them up at night.

The most obvious reason for this is that, like coffee, chocolate contains caffeine. However, the amount of caffeine present changes dramatically depending on the kind of chocolate you’re consuming – milk, white or dark.

Milk chocolate is the most popular and widely eaten form of chocolate. A 1.5 ounce milk chocolate bar contains around 9 milligrams of caffeine. This is roughly three times as much caffeine as a cup of decaffeinated coffee. However, a same-sized bar of dark chocolate contains far more caffeine: around 30 milligrams. This is the same as a cup of instant tea, and slightly less than a cup of brewed tea, which contains around 40 milligrams.

So indulging in dark chocolate close enough to bedtime can affect how quickly you fall asleep in the same way a cup of tea might.

However, it isn’t just the caffeine content that makes chocolate a risky option for bedtime snacking. It also contains other stimulants, such as theobromine. As well as being the compound that makes chocolate harmful to dogs and cats because they metabolize it so slowly, theobromine has also been shown to increase heart rate and lead to sleeplessness. This compound can be found in small amounts in most kinds of chocolate and, like caffeine, is most present in dark chocolate.

On the other hand, there is an option for those unwilling to give up the sweet stuff completely before bed. White chocolate does not contain any theobromine and very little caffeine, so is unlikely to affect your sleep pattern.

The benefits of chocolate

It isn’t all bad news for chocolate lovers, as research has shown that there are many positive aspects associated with the sweet treat. For one thing, the smell of chocolate has been shown to cause relaxation by reducing theta activity in the brain, according to research by the International Journal of Psychophysiology. So while eating chocolate may keep you up, catching the scent of it may help you unwind before bed.

Chocolate also increases your levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, otherwise known as our natural happiness drug, and dopamine — a natural painkiller. Together, these chemicals can help increase your feelings of positivity and energy, so it might be best to save that midnight snack for the morning and enjoy greater vigour first thing.

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