It’s the Easter Holiday weekend. But what impact does chocolate have on your sleep health?
In fact, Ireland has the third highest consumption of chocolate in the world, with the average Irish person eating 19.47 lbs of chocolate per year, according to The World Atlas of Chocolate. 80% of the world chocolate market is accounted for by just six transnational companies, including Nestle, Mars and Cadbury. Europeans alone consume around 40% of the world’s cocoa per year, 85% of which is imported from West Africa.
What’s more, 22% of all chocolate consumption takes place between 8pm and midnight. However, as awareness of health, well-being and self-care becomes more apparent when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep, this Easter weekend 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 our Easter chocolate consumption really have on your ability to get a good night’s rest?
Chocolate and Sleep
With Ireland, being the third highest consumer of chocolate in the world, does this mean our sleep is also impacted significantly? Chocolate contains stimulants including caffeine and theobromine. They both work together to increase both physical and mental performance. Theobromine is a diuretic; however it mainly acts as a smooth muscle relaxant and cardiac stimulant. Theobromine affects the body in a similar way to caffeine but not quite as strong.
Theobromine is a naturally occurring compound found in cacao plants and tea leaves. Theobromine, which increases heart rate and mental activity, is found in small amounts in chocolate, especially dark. Dogs cannot process it in their digestion, which is why chocolate, especially dark chocolate, is bad for dogs. A 70% dark chocolate bar can have as much as 810 mg of theobromine, while a milk chocolate bar has 65 mg.
Caffeine is a natural stimulant, consumed throughout the world in many different products including chocolate. You can usually determine the amount of caffeine in chocolate by how dark it is. The darker the chocolate, the more cocoa solids it contains and therefore the more caffeine. Dark chocolate contains more caffeine than milk chocolate and white chocolate contains no caffeine. However, caffeine is not the only ingredient in chocolate that can keep you up at night. Sugar can affect your sleep too. But don’t worry, even though there are relatively low amounts of caffeine in chocolate, it’s best not to eat too much in the evening.
Overindulgence of chocolate has been linked to some overweight cases and it may result in the onset of diabetes. Many food scientists have reported chocolate to be the single most craved food. Chocolate has been found to trigger parts of the brain that are associated with drug addiction.
Benefits of Chocolate
Dark chocolate is the most antioxidant-rich food on earth. It’s chemical compounds, cumulatively boost energy, stamina, mental acuity, and mood. In other words, not only does dark chocolate make you feel good—it also boosts your performance. Chocolate also contains tryptophan, which stimulates serotonin and melatonin. Dark chocolate is considered a major source of dietary copper, which is required in small amounts for a healthy lifestyle. Theobromine helps open up the airways, which can enhance lung function and help with different respiratory conditions. It helps to relax smooth muscles and also helps digestion as a result. Dark chocolate contains higher amounts of cocoa solids, less milk and sugar than regular chocolate. Cocoa and chocolate are also rich in minerals, such as magnesium and iron. Chocolate is a short term source for energy due to antioxidants. Various studies show that dark chocolate and cocoa contain a significant amount of polyphenols, mainly flavonols. These anti-oxidants have been proven to reduce the risk of developing cancer or heart disease.
Serotonin in Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate containing 85 percent cocoa has the most serotonin which helps to improve your mood, reducing pain, decrease fatigue and it is a precursor to melatonin, our sleep hormone.
The Bottom Line
While chocolate has some incredible benefits for our health, it is best not to over consume as this can lead to weight issues and food cravings. Ideally eating chocolate, especially dark chocolate during the day can benefit our mood and stress levels while helping to produce more melatonin for bedtime, a perfect combination to help you sleep soundly. Eating chocolate at night before bed may not be the best idea because of sugar content and caffeine. Caffeine, for some, can take a long time to break down having a negative impact on your sleep. Enjoy the Easter break!
Psychopharmacology of theobromine – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3672386/
Effects on peripheral and central blood pressure of cocoa with natural or high-dose theobromine – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20823377/
Cocoa and Chocolate in Human Health and Disease – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4696435/
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