Does hot chocolate help you sleep?
What should seem like a simple answer is actually somewhat complicated.
Hot chocolate or hot cocoa is made up of three base ingredients; milk, cocoa powder, and sugar. It can be found in countless cultures in one form or another, with additives specific to the area. For example, in Colombia their version of hot chocolate is made with milk and usually enjoyed as a breakfast beverage and topped with cheese.
Although it might, at first glance, seem like nothing more than a sweet seasonal drink, hot chocolate has a lot more going for it, especially when it comes to health. But what are the chances it can help you sleep?
The Facts: Mental vs. Physical
When it comes down to it, hot chocolate is technically a stimulant due to the caffeine levels. One cup of hot chocolate contains 5mg of caffeine. For comparison, one cup of coffee (black) contains 95mg.
That’s a big difference, but there’s enough caffeine in hot chocolate to give you a bit of a wake-up call during the day.
So how can hot chocolate possibly be beneficial when it comes to getting some rest? The secret lies more in the psychological than physical effects that this very beloved drink has.
You might be familiar with the suggestion that drinking a warm glass of milk before bed can help a child (or an adult) fall asleep. When science set out to prove or disprove this claim, they quickly discovered that milk does contain tryptophan, which helps synthesize melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep. But milk doesn’t actually have enough tryptophan to have an effect on how sleepy we are.
What they did find was that milk sets you up for bed mentally. A warm, full stomach tells our body that this would be a great time to sleep, and our bodies respond. So our mothers and grandmothers weren’t wrong; there’s definitely some logic to the claim.
The Good Stuff: Chocolate
When made with milk, hot chocolate has other benefits that can lull us to sleep. The cocoa used to make hot chocolate lowers blood pressure. Studies have found that those with insomnia often have high blood pressure, so hot chocolate actually regulates this issue.
Chocolate also has a strong effect on stress, lowering cortisol levels and fighting the “fight or flight” hormones that might be keeping you up.
If you’re interested in giving hot chocolate a shot at helping you sleep at night, there are a few good practices that will help the chocolate do its thing and keep you healthy.
First, make sure you’re using 100% cocoa, which has the most vitamins and nutrients as well as the antioxidants that lead to lowered BP. Making sure you’re staying away from unprocessed cocoa will also protect you from harmful additives like high amounts of sugar or chemicals.
And lastly, control your intake! While a tall, steaming cup of hot chocolate may sound like a satisfying way to end your day, having large amounts of dairy can negatively affect your health and your digestive system.