I LOVE hot chocolate, the sweet delicious beverage is just the best thing.
And I’ve always associated a rich, creamy hot chocolate as a great option to sip just before bed (as well to warm up whilst out in the snow!) so I wanted to know what it actually does to my body.
Does hot chocolate help you sleep?
Is it a healthy bedtime option?
I decided to find out so spent many hours researching to bring you this post. Enjoy!
Yes, hot chocolate may help you fall asleep, especially if you associate the drink with bedtime. The warm milk in the hot chocolate is associated with relaxing you to sleep but the effects are likely more psychological than physical. Hot chocolate is also high in sugar, which is not the healthiest option before bed!
WHY WOULD HOT CHOCOLATE HELP YOU SLEEP
(Also with milk is the only way to have a hot chocolate at home, none of this water rubbish)
Part of the reason it can help is that it is super relaxing, you get a nice endorphin hit from the chocolate while the warm drink is utterly soothing.
And it becomes twice as effective if you had it growing up, if you grew up having a hot chocolate and then going to bed you likely built up an association that tells you when you have hot chocolate it’s time to sleep.
And if you had the association as a child it will still exist as an adult so you can tap into it by having hot chocolate and you’ll start to feel sleepy.
WHAT CAUSES US TO FEEL SLEEPY?
The first question I should probably address is why do we go from being awake and alert to feeling tired and sleepy in the first place?
Well, it turns out that the neurotransmitter serotonin is the force behind this process. Serotonin acts on your brain to help keep you alert and also boosts your mood. If your body is producing good levels of serotonin this can give you that wonderful, natural high feeling.
Serotonin is responsible for producing melatonin which is a bit like the night porter of the brain. It takes over when it’s dark outside and is responsible for managing the sleep-wake cycle of your body.
Why is this relevant?
Well, in order for your body to produce adequate levels of both serotonin and melatonin you need the amino acid tryptophan in your diet. This is found in protein-rich foods such as meat and dairy as well as some nuts and seeds.
The theory goes that if you consume a nice big, tryptophan-rich meal before bed, you’ll sleep better.
WHAT’S IN HOT CHOCOLATE THAT CAN HELP YOU SLEEP
The milk in the hot chocolate does contain the amino acid tryptophan which may affect your serotonin levels. It also has added health benefits of plenty of calcium and vitamin D to keep your body strong and healthy.
The problem is, the levels of tryptophan found in the milk are not significant enough to really affect your sleep cycle. You’re going to have to consume a LOT of milk to get any noticeable effect on sleepiness and it’s probably not a fantastic idea to consume a load of liquid right before bed!
In the hot chocolate powder itself (I looked at the classic which is Cadburys) there isn’t much in the way of vitamins and minerals that could help you sleep.
Dark chocolate or cocoa powder contains polyphenols that have antioxidant health benefits. These aren’t specifically linked to your sleep quality, so, unfortunately, can’t be used as an excuse to eat chocolate right before bed!
The reason people seem to sleep well after drinking chocolate appears to be the same reason people feel sleepy after drinking a glass of warm milk. Hot drinks make us feel warm, relaxed, and comforted so it is more akin to mental association with sleep rather than a physical.
So the fact that it helps sleep comes from the relaxing and psychological factors only.
WHAT ABOUT THE SUGAR?
Now it’s no secret that hot chocolate is sugary and I don’t think I need to tell you that you should be brushing your teeth after you drink it.
And the thing about the sugar content of hot chocolate is it gives you a spike in energy. If you’re just about to head off to sleep the sugar coursing through your body will keep your brain alert and active. Another issue is if the sugar isn’t needed for activity (which is the case during sleep) then your body will need to store it as fat for later use.
A sugary bedtime drink is not a good choice for overall health if consumed on a regular basis. Better overall health is known to be linked to better sleep.
So the jury is out on the sugar, I definitely wouldn’t have a hot chocolate every night before bed but once in a while is fine I’m sure. All about moderation.
WHAT WOULD BE A HEALTHIER BEDTIME DRINK OPTION?
If you’re looking to avoid hot cocoa then a simple glass of warm milk makes a great nightcap. If dairy isn’t an option then a milk substitute like almond milk does nicely.
Drinks that have also been said to help induce a good night’s sleep are herbal teas such as chamomile tea. Chamomile contains antioxidants that may help alleviate anxiety. This is great if your mental health has a tendency to affect your sleeping patterns.
If chamomile isn’t for you then maybe try peppermint tea. It supposedly helps relax your muscles to help induce relaxation needed for deep sleep.
When choosing herbal teas it is important to mention that green tea should be avoided before bed. The high caffeine content is a potent stimulant so not ideal for a restful nights slumber.
WHAT OTHER OPTIONS COULD HELP ME GET A GOOD NIGHTS REST?
Melatonin is the hormone responsible for regulating your sleep cycle. It is produced naturally in the brain and is influenced by day length and time of day. If you struggle to get a good nights rest your melatonin levels may be the issue. Supplements can help, especially if your suffering from jet lag or insomnia with night shift work.
Tart cherry juice has recently come into the spotlight as a potential treatment for insomnia. Studies have emerged that suggest drinking two glasses of the juice per day can help sleep quality and duration.
Valerian is a herb that is commonly used to treat insomnia. The root is ground up and prepared as a medicine, normally in capsules. Also known as “natures sedative” this supplement has a long history helping to treat sleep disorders. Valerian is also found in many herbal teas labelled to treat insomnia so this can be a good option if a warm drink before bed helps relax you.
Essential oils are a great option to help relax and soothe the body into a restful nights sleep. Lavender, valerian, bergamot and roman chamomile are popular choices. Used in a diffuser, dropped onto your pillowcase or blankets or even sprinkled in bathwater, these soothing scents bring an air of relaxation to your nighttime routine
THE BOTTOM LINE…
Warm drinks are great before bed. The warm, soothing feel of them helps relax you into sleep but these effects are more due to association rather than the drink itself.
A lot of people do feel sleepy after drinking hot chocolate but this isn’t the healthiest option to consume on a regular basis.
Please feel free to weigh up the options for yourself as it’s really down to each individual to decide which bedtime drink is best!