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Sleep Matters by Deb Herdman

Can chocolate keep you awake

Can chocolate keep you awake?

Every easter the world gorges itself in chocolate. In fact, over 90 million chocolate bunnies are made with 60 million consumed in the US alone…and that’s just bunnies! Can chocolate ruin your sleep cycle and be the start of bad sleep habits?

Chocolate is a trigger for GERD, GORD or more commonly acid reflux or heartburn. An unpleasant gastric disorder that affects around 15 millions American adults each day. Some foods are likely candidates for causing reflux including our beloved chocolate which contains caffeine, cacao and plant chemicals that act as stimulants and cause smooth muscle to relax. At the lower end of our food pipe is a sphinter that acts as a doorway to allow chewed food into the stomach for digestion to begin. The stomach contents are supposed to stay there and over time make their way into the colon for more digestion and absorption of nutrients.

At night time digestion slows and the combination of lying down, spinster relaxation and a full stomach of chocolate can lead to heartburn, pain and discomfort that keeps you from sleeping well. In young children, that combination often leads to a huge and messy chocolate vomit – which will certainly disrupt parent sleep.

Adults, may prefer to take an antacid or sleep more upright but if you are prone to reflux it would be wise to eat chocolate in moderation and certainly not in the leadup to bedtime. Children should be monitored with how much chocolate they eat to avoid tummy aches and limit chocolate to earlier in the day rather than the evening.

Chocolate contains milk and milk helps you sleep

Milk contains tryptophan and chocolate, at least the good quality variety contains milk. In some individuals milk can trigger the effects of feeling sleepy but the association to sleep maybe related to thinking milk helps you feel sleepy and thus the placebo effect kicks in. Tryptophan is an enzyme that helps raise serotonin and thus melatonin, the sleep hormone. Milk products on there own may help you fall asleep faster but combined with chocolate the sleepy effect could be more related to the feel good factor and thus less anxiety…who doesn’t feel better with chocolate?

BUT…chocolate contains caffeine and caffeine keeps you awake, which can makes it a bad choice if you consume too much. During the latter stages of sleep, caffeine consumption disrupts REM (dream)sleep which is why you’re more likely to feel groggy the next morning. Missed REM will also mean you feel more emotional and miss out on sleep that helps with memory and concentration.

Dark chocolate better or worse?

Dark chocolate contains more caffeine as cacao content is higher. Caffeine has a slow half-life of 4-6 hours and if you are sensitive to it, it might be the reason that your mind is wired as soon s you hit the pillow. This means you lose overall sleep time and sleep efficiency.

It can be the simplest of things that set you off onto a pathway toward insomnia. The trick is to know and understand your sleep so that you are skilled at bringing good sleep back when it goes off. If you suffer from other health-related conditions, improving sleep helps improve overall health. specializes in sleep problems and we can help you sleep well.

Enjoy chocolate in moderation and enjoy sleep.

Sweet Dreams
Deb Herdman

Picture of About the Author

About the Author

Deb Herdman is a certified sleep practitioner specializing in infant, child, teen, and adult insomnia and sleep rhythm disorders.


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