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Does Hot Chocolate Help You Sleep or Not? (Doctor’s Verdict)

Dr-Babar-Naeem.
  • This article was written by Dr. Babar Naeem (MBBS, MRCPCH) – a licensed and practicing medical doctor – to ensure maximum factual accuracy and unique content.

Hot chocolate is one of the most popular beverages made from cocoa powder and is often made with cream, sugar, and milk.

Hot chocolate offers many benefits, such as antioxidant properties, regulating blood pressure, promoting cardiovascular health, aiding memory, and relieving stress.

But can hot chocolate help you sleep or does it keep you awake?

Hot chocolate is more likely to help you sleep than keep you awake if you use pure cocoa powder without additives, avoid adding extra sugar, and drink the chocolate a few hours before bed – the caffeine content isn’t significant enough to cause sleep disruption in most people.

In the rest of this article, I have used the knowledge gained through being a medical doctor combined with my research skills to explain in more detail how hot chocolate affects sleep – both positively and negatively.

I have also included 7 steps that you can follow to use hot chocolate effectively to help you sleep rather than keep you awake.

As always, this is not medical advice and if you are having trouble sleeping, you should talk to your own doctor for the best guidance.

Related: click here to see our top-rated mattresses for a better night’s sleep.

How Does Hot Chocolate Affect Your Sleep?

Hot chocolate affects sleep in both positive and negative ways – with the net outcome being mostly beneficial in helping the vast majority of people get to sleep.

A study conducted in Japan concluded that dietary cocoa has a beneficial effect on insomnia and circadian rhythm [1].

Some of the various impacts of hot chocolate on sleep are summarized below:

1: Increases Melatonin to Induce Sleep

Melatonin is a hormone produced in the body by a tiny structure, the pineal gland, to regulate the sleep/wake cycle.

Studies have confirmed the beneficial effects of increased melatonin levels on the quality of sleep at night [2].

I usually recommend that my patients improve their melatonin levels naturally as the initial step in combating insomnia.

Hot chocolate contains many biochemicals that act as a substrate for the production of melatonin.

Hence, drinking hot chocolate at night is associated with increased melatonin levels that can induce sleep.

Find out more about melatonin here.

2: Increases Serotonin to Trigger Sleep

Serotonin is a chemical that acts on the brain and mediates various actions.

Such chemicals are called neurotransmitters.

Serotonin plays a vital role in memory, cognition, mood elevation, and sleep.

Studies have shown that serotonin is essential for the onset and maintenance of sleep [3].

Serotonin is also an integral component of melatonin, which is a principal sleep-regulating hormone.

The main ingredient of hot chocolate is cocoa, which contains a chemical called tryptophan.

This chemical is essential for the production of serotonin.

Eating tryptophan boosts serotonin levels in the body and is one of the mechanisms of inducing sleep.

3: Contains Theobromine to Help Relax You Into Sleep

Hot chocolate contains a chemical called theobromine, which acts as a smooth muscle relaxant and may help to ease you into sleep.

Stress, anxiety, and depression are associated with very poor sleep.

Sleep disturbance worsens these psychiatric problems, and a vicious cycle starts.

Hot chocolate can alleviate stress and anxiety, and help you sleep.

There are many other mood-elevating ingredients in the cocoa that relieve stress and anxiety.

Researchers at the University College London, UK, did a study among chocolate consumers and non-consumers.

They found out that those individuals who consume chocolate had a 57% lower chance of having depressive symptoms than those who didn’t consume it [4].

Another study done on mice proved that cocoa decreased the stress levels of mice, and improved their sleep quality.

Here are 8 ways to get to sleep when you have racing thoughts and anxiety.

4: The Warm Temperature Induces Sleep

Many warm drinks, including hot chocolate, are great for sleep.

The warm temperature is soothing, comforting, and helps with relaxation.

A relaxed person is more likely to have a night of good quality sleep.

5: Milk has Sleep-Inducing Properties

Milk is traditionally used at bedtime for combating trouble sleeping and is a favorite of mothers.

Milk contains many chemicals that promote sleep, including melatonin, serotonin, and tryptophan.

It possesses relaxing properties that are essential for the onset of sleep.

It also provides a good source of calcium and vitamin D, both of which help to keep us healthy.

Tryptophan, serotonin, and melatonin are chemicals involved in the regulation of the sleep/wake cycle.

A recently conducted study in Brazil revealed astonishing results.

The researcher found that nighttime milk has unique advantages over daytime milk.

Night-time milk is exceptionally rich in melatonin and tryptophan.

Night-time milk also had better results in inducing sleep [5].

6: Sugar is Bad for Sleep

Sugar has a lot of detrimental effects on our health, including weight gain, obesity, insomnia, and increased inflammation.

It also increases the incidence of obstructive sleep apnea, which causes breathing problems during sleep.

The amount of sugar present in hot chocolate varies from brand to brand.

On average, there are 24 grams of sugar in a cup of hot chocolate.

I recommend selecting the brand that has the lowest amount of sugar in it.

Click here to discover how to stop sleep apnea from causing weight gain.

7: Caffeine Negatively Affects Sleep

Caffeine is a stimulant of the central nervous system, which keeps us awake and inhibits sleep.

Even after we fall asleep, caffeine can prevent us from going into a deep sleep that is essential for replenishing the body.

Caffeine has a diuretic effect that can disturb sleep by promoting an urge to urinate during the night.

It is found in abundance in tea, coffee, and cocoa.

A small amount of caffeine is also present in hot chocolate.

Dark chocolate, in particular, has more caffeine content when compared to others.

Realistically speaking, the amount of caffeine found in hot chocolate is not enough to cause sleep disturbance.

On average, a cup of it contains 5mg of caffeine, compared to a cup of coffee that has 63mg.

However, the sensitivity of every individual to caffeine is different.

Some individuals are not affected, even after consuming a large quantity of caffeine, while others can have sleep problems after a small amount of caffeine.

So you should know your own body before consuming caffeine.

Try these 15 ways to sleep better after drinking coffee here.

7 Ways to Sleep Better by Drinking Hot Chocolate

Follow these 7 steps to ensure that hot chocolate will help you sleep rather than keep you awake:

1: Use Pure Cocoa Powder Without Additives

To gain the maximum benefits, my first recommendation is to use pure cocoa powder without any additives.

Added sugar, creamer, or chemicals, are counterproductive to your health and may negatively affect your ability to sleep.

The presence of other ingredients can decrease the absorption of cocoa from the gut, and reduce its benefits.

A good quality hot chocolate should contain at least 70% or more cocoa.

Consuming chocolate with a higher percentage of cocoa is associated with many health benefits, including decreased risk of diabetes, better blood pressure control, antioxidant effects, and decreased inflammation [6].

Research conducted in Italy showed that products that contain more cocoa have more flavanols and theobromine.

Consumption of such products leads to reduced symptoms of sleep deprivation.

Improved blood flow, better blood pressure control, improved cognition, better working memory, and enhanced quality of sleep were observed in subjects who took flavanol-rich chocolate [7].

Added ingredients can have potentially harmful effects, such as dental caries, diabetes, and obesity.

So taking a hot drink with a few teaspoons of pure cocoa is far better than using a commercially available powder with added ingredients.

Try these 10 doctor’s tips to stay up late and not be tired.

2: Don’t Drink Hot Chocolate Every Night

Although hot chocolate does contain some ingredients that promote sleep, some of its other components like sugar are not good for your overall health.

Therefore it is not recommended that hot chocolate is used every night to help you sleep since the extra sugar and calories may have a negative effect on your health.

I do not recommend my patients use hot chocolate as a regular sleep supplement. 

Daily intake should not exceed 3-4 cups.

Here are 3 ways that kiwi can help you sleep better.

3: Avoid Extra Sugar (No Marshmallows!)

The presence of sugar in any food item brings many detrimental health issues.

It increases the incidence of dental caries, obesity, infections, and insomnia.

Sugar provides an instant source of energy to the brain and keeps us alert and active.

A recently conducted study has demonstrated that increased sugar intake causes difficulty sleeping, and increases nighttime awakening.

I always recommend my patients check the sugar contents of the foods they buy.

No brand of hot chocolate is free of added sugar, so the best option is to find the one with the lowest amount.

Please note that the higher the sugar proportion, the lower the cocoa content.

Sugar-free beverages are excellent, but excessive use of artificial sweeteners is also harmful.

You should be aware of hidden sources of sugar, such as corn syrup.

The best practice is to avoid sugar, but you can use it in small amounts for taste.

This means you should not add sugar-rich extras like marshmallows to your hot chocolate!

Here are 10 doctor-approved ways to sleep better after exercising too late at night.

4: Drink Hot Chocolate a Few Hours Before Bed

Another strategy that works for some people is to take the hot chocolate in the evening, rather than later at night.

In this way, the enlivening effects of caffeine and other ingredients will wear off before bedtime.

Chances of acidity and reflux will also decrease.

Moreover, you will have the choice of going to bed whenever you start feeling sleepy. 

Some people have difficulty sleeping due to acid reflux that results from sleeping with a full stomach.

A cough, bad smells, and regurgitation of the food are the common symptoms of this problem.

The best solution is to consume food a few hours before going to sleep and sleeping with an elevated head.

Caffeine and spicy foods can exacerbate this problem.

Again, I would like to stress that you should only implement the tips that work best for you.

See the best adjustable beds for combating acid reflux here.

5: Avoid Toppings, Cream, and Full Fat Milk

Extra ingredients, such as toppings, cream, or full-fat milk, should be avoided in order to maximize the benefits and minimize the health hazards. 

The presence of extra, high caloric content can lead to weight gain and obstructive sleep apnea.

The risk of coronary heart disease is also increased due to the high sugar and fat.

These extra calories will also keep the brain active and alert.

The proportion of cocoa and its associated benefits are also decreased due to the presence of additional ingredients.

Try these 9 ways to sleep better as a couple.

6: Make Your Own Hot Chocolate to Avoid Harmful Additives

The best way to make sleep-friendly hot chocolate is to prepare it at home.

By doing this, you can control the individual ingredients.

A good option would be to combine cocoa powder, milk, and a small amount of sweetener.

Many of the store-bought hot chocolate powders contain preservatives that are used to make them last longer.

However, these preservatives carry many harmful health effects, and some of them are not good for sleep.

Similarly, some of the brands include artificial additives to flavor the chocolate.

So to ensure the best results, you should not use store-bought chocolate.

When preparing hot chocolate at home, follow these recommendations:

  • Use unsweetened cocoa powder instead of sweetened.
  • Avoid chocolate powder with alkali processing. Fairtrade and organic chocolate are more beneficial.
  • Choose milk that contains low calories, such as almond milk or low-fat milk.
  • Minimize the addition of sugar; you could use dark chocolate chips for flavor.

7: Use a Hot Chocolate Alternative if Required

If you have tried all of the above options, and you still have sleep problems after taking hot chocolate, the best option is to replace it with something healthier.

There is no shortage of drinks that offer sleep benefits, and you should use the one that works best for you.

I have listed some of the options below:

Warm Milk

Warm milk, taken in the evening or at night, is an excellent alternative to hot chocolate.

It increases the tryptophan, melatonin, and serotonin levels in the body in the same way as hot chocolate.

Lactose present in the milk increases the endorphin levels in the body, and that alleviates stress.

Milk doesn’t contain caffeine, which is associated with disturbed sleep.

The warm temperature has extra benefits which aid sleep.

Chamomile Tea

Chamomile tea is an excellent alternative to hot chocolate and has been used since ancient times.

It possesses soothing and relaxing properties and promotes a good quality of sleep.

It contains a very beneficial antioxidant called apigenin, which relieves anxiety and initiates sleep.

The presence of flavonoids offers sedative properties.

A study revealed that ten patients went into a deep sleep after taking chamomile tea, and slept for 90 minutes [8].

Follow these 8 tips for better sleep with chamomile tea.

Turmeric Tea

This is a traditional Indian drink that contains turmeric, ginger, and black pepper added to the warm milk.

Hot Vanilla

This typically contains vanilla extract, cinnamon, sugar, and milk.

Adopt Sleep-Friendly Habits

I have always stressed the importance of the sleep-friendly habits that should be followed in order to obtain good quality sleep.

I have summarized these below:

  • Minimize smoking, and the consumption of alcohol.
  • Regular tea and coffee should not be consumed at bedtime.
  • A fixed time should be set for sleep, and strict compliance to it maintained.
  • The sleeping environment should be noise-free.
  • Use of mobile devices, televisions, and laptops must be avoided.
  • Blankets, bed sheets, and pillows should be clean and comfortable.
  • Exercise in the morning or afternoon can help you sleep better.

Conclusion: Hot Chocolate Can Help You Sleep

Hot chocolate possesses many properties that help with sleep, as it increases melatonin concentrations, provides a relaxation effect, and relieves anxiety, stress, and depression.

However, the presence of sugar means that hot chocolate consumption should be limited as part of a healthy diet.

Up next: 6 ways to sleep when taking Zoloft.


Sources and References

[1] K. Oishi, H. Okauchi, S. Yamamoto, and S. Higo-Yamamoto, “Dietary natural cocoa ameliorates disrupted circadian rhythms in locomotor activity and sleep-wake cycles in mice with chronic sleep disorders caused by psychophysiological stress,” Nutrition, vol. 75–76, p. 110751, 2020, doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nut.2020.110751.

[2] P. Lemoine, J.-C. Bablon, and C. Da Silva, “A combination of melatonin, vitamin B6 and medicinal plants in the treatment of mild-to-moderate insomnia: A prospective pilot study,” Complement. Ther. Med., vol. 45, pp. 104–108, 2019, doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctim.2019.05.024.

[3] C. M. Portas, B. Bjorvatn, and R. Ursin, “Serotonin and the sleep/wake cycle: special emphasis on microdialysis studies,” Prog. Neurobiol., vol. 60, no. 1, pp. 13–35, 2000, doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0301-0082(98)00097-5.

[4] S. E. Jackson et al., “Is there a relationship between chocolate consumption and symptoms of depression? A cross-sectional survey of 13,626 US adults,” Depress. Anxiety, vol. 36, no. 10, pp. 987–995, Oct. 2019, doi: https://doi.org/10.1002/da.22950.

[5] I. J. I. dela Peña et al., “Milk Collected at Night Induces Sedative and Anxiolytic-Like Effects and Augments Pentobarbital-Induced Sleeping Behavior in Mice,” J. Med. Food, vol. 18, no. 11, pp. 1255–1261, Nov. 2015, doi: 10.1089/jmf.2015.3448.

[6] D. L. Katz, K. Doughty, and A. Ali, “Cocoa and chocolate in human health and disease,” Antioxid. Redox Signal., vol. 15, no. 10, pp. 2779–2811, Nov. 2011, doi: 10.1089/ars.2010.3697.

[7] D. Grassi et al., “Flavanol-rich chocolate acutely improves arterial function and working memory performance counteracting the effects of sleep deprivation in healthy individuals,” J. Hypertens., vol. 34, no. 7, 2016, [Online]. Available: https://journals.lww.com/jhypertension/Fulltext/2016/07000/Flavanol_rich_chocolate_acutely_improves_arterial.11.aspx.

[8] L. GOULD, C. V. R. REDDY, and R. F. GOMPRECHT, “Cardiac Effects of Chamomile Tea,” J. Clin. Pharmacol. New Drugs, vol. 13, no. 11, pp. 475–479, Nov. 1973, doi: https://doi.org/10.1002/j.1552-4604.1973.tb00202.x.

Medical Disclaimer

If you are having trouble sleeping you should consult with your doctor for the best advice – no part of this website offers medical advice.

Image Attribution and Licensing

Main image: ‘Cup of Hot Chocolate’ by AntonioGravante (used with permission and commercially licensed through Envato Elements).

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