When the sun goes down, and supper is over, you inevitably start looking in the cupboards for something sweet to nibble on. There’s no need to feel guilty if you’ve ever given in to a late-night hunger.
Many people find that a delicious piece of chocolate is the ideal late-night treat to satisfy their desire for something sweet. But is it possible that eating a whole chocolate bar in the afternoon may be harmful?
Amanda Holtzer, a registered dietitian RD, discusses the potential drawbacks of consuming chocolate right before bed.
The Dangers of Eating Chocolate Late at Night
1. It can Disrupt your Sleep
According to Holtzer, the combination of chocolate’s caffeine, theobromine, and sugar makes it an effective sleep disruptor.
The majority of us immediately associate coffee with caffeinated meals. However, chocolate is also a good way to get your caffeine fix. And much like your morning coffee, it may offer you a boost of energy—something you probably don’t want while winding down for the day.
Caffeine “blocks adenosine receptors in the brain,” as Holtzer puts it. According to the authors, “adenosine receptors slow neural activity and the physical body down and encourage sleep.”
Caffeine’s stimulant effects prevent this from happening. Research published in Sleep Medicine Reviews in February 2017 confirmed that caffeine hurts sleep quality.
“Theobromine is an alkaloid found in cocoa and chocolate,” Holtzer explains. It’s responsible for cacao’s distinctive bitterness. However, she warns that this chemical might lead to an elevated heart rate and agitation.
Holtzer claims that the lower sugar content of dark chocolate is due to the greater quantity of theobromine found in it. Because of this, it should not be consumed right before going to bed.
Depending on the type, chocolate (and other candies) can contain a lot of simple sugars. Holtzer warns that eating simple sweets as snacks can swiftly lead to a high blood sugar level.
She explains that when blood sugar is high, people may feel more energized and aware than usual, which nobody wants right before bed.
According to research published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine in August 2019, a high-sugar diet is associated with decreased sleep quality and duration.
Dark Chocolate Theobromine and Caffeine Content Pie Chart
According to ConsumerLab, most chocolate bars include between 40 and 50 mg of caffeine per 1.5-ounce dose, around a square or two. A half cup of coffee contains roughly the same amount of caffeine.
According to ConsumerLab, below is a breakdown of how much caffeine and theobromine may be found in well-known chocolate products. Please be aware that the serving sizes vary depending on the chocolate brand.
2. It can cause Drowsiness
Holtzer argues that consuming something sweet like chocolate before night might have the opposite effect.
But you shouldn’t rely on your cocoa-flavored sweets as a natural sedative, so put down the chocolate bar before bed.
If eating chocolate makes you sleepy, that’s hardly a benefit. Here’s why: “When we eat a sugary treat that gives the body more glucose than it needs, the pancreas goes into overdrive, and it releases a lot of insulin to lower your blood sugar,” Holtzer explains.
She says the “sugar crash” feeling might occur once the insulin has worked and blood sugar has dropped again. In other words, low blood sugar lethargy is the drowsy experience’s core.
3. Inflammation is a Possible Third Effect
The sugar content of many chocolates is high, but it is notably high in milk and white chocolate.
The problem is that sugar is a pro-inflammatory substance. Therefore, “when we eat it, a series of processes are carried out in the body which can increase levels of inflammation,” as Holtzer puts it.
She adds that eating too much sugar can lead to health problems, such as obesity, high blood pressure, cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes.
Even worse, “an inflammatory response at night can be particularly damaging as it can inhibit or decrease sleep quality,” Holtzer says.
However, sleep deprivation can have serious consequences for one’s health over time. Harvard Health Publishing reports that insufficient sleep increases the risk of mood disorders, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
4. It could help in Putting on Extra Pounds
Your nightly chocolate bar may be contributing to your weight gain.
Holtzer argues that when we eat late at night, our bodies are less inclined to use food as fuel.
She explains why this is the case by noting that nighttime is traditionally when people slow down and use less energy. That makes us more susceptible to converting whatever food we consume into fat.
That’s bad news for late-night snacking on chocolate bars in bed. Due to the high calorie and sugar content, making chocolate a midnight snack may cause weight gain, especially if extra portions are consumed without corresponding reductions in other caloric intake.
According to the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, consuming sugary foods that cause a rapid rise in blood sugar and insulin levels is a significant risk factor for developing an eating disorder.
Although most people can handle gaining an additional pound or two, a chronic pattern of weight gain increases the danger of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
5. You may have to get up more often to Urinate
Have you gotten up more frequently at night to use the restroom? It could be connected to the fact that you always eat chocolate right before bed.
Caffeine, “a compound that helps the body rid itself of excess sodium and water,” is something you can get from chocolate, and depending on the kind, it may supply quite a bit.
“Diuretics increase blood pressure, blood flow, and stress on the kidneys, thus causing us to urinate more,” she explains.
According to the National Library of Medicine, theobromine in chocolate is also a diuretic; thus, eating it might cause you to urinate more frequently than usual.
This should serve as a warning: “If you don’t want your sleep interrupted by bathroom breaks, I suggest choosing another bedtime snack,” Holtzer advises.
6. It might make Night Sweats much Worse
Caffeine is to blame once again.
Caffeine can cause excessive perspiration, which is a “common yet often overlooked side effect,” according to Holtzer. “Because caffeine is a stimulant, it can increase the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, which can lead to increased perspiration at night,” she says.
Those experiencing menopause may also find eating chocolate makes them sweat more than usual. For example, menopausal women who drink coffee may have increased night sweats and hot flashes, according to research published in Menopause in February 2015.
7. You might get Heartburn or Acid Reflux from it
You probably didn’t aware that chocolate can make some individuals experience acid reflux. The pressure of the lower esophageal sphincter (the valve that keeps food and acid in the stomach and prevents it from entering the esophagus) is lowered by eating chocolate, according to Holtzer’s research.
She explains that heartburn occurs when “that valve isn’t functioning properly” and stomach acid splashes into the esophagus.
This issue is worse when you go to bed and try to sleep. This is because lying flat simplifies stomach acid and gastric fluids to go up the esophagus and into the throat.
Foods That Can Replace Chocolate at Night
Avoiding the chocolate bar before night will keep you on the safe side. However, it doesn’t mean you can’t have much fun before turning in for the night. Making wiser decisions is the key.
Holtzer suggests choosing a food that is slow to digest and filling before bed. “After all, depending on how much you sleep, you’re about to go without food for seven to ten hours.”
Holtzer advises the following snacks, which provide an appropriate combination of complex carbs, protein, and healthy fats, to satiate your sweet desire without compromising your sleep or health.
The nice thing is that most of them still have that chocolaty flavor you love so much:
- Rice cake, natural peanut butter, dark chocolate chips, and a pinch of salt.
- Combine half a cup of Greek yogurt, half a banana, and a quarter cup of sugar-free chocolate granola.
- 1 Yasso Mint Chocolate Chip Frozen Greek Yogurt Bar (Six dollars and eighty-nine cents; Target).
- We toasted whole-grain waffles with almond butter and a quarter cup of blueberries.
If Chocolate is Still What You’re Craving…
Do you still need chocolate before you go to sleep? Sure, we get it. There’s nothing quite like a chocolate square when you’re in the mood for something sweet.
Holtzer adds, “If you’re craving chocolate, go ahead and indulge.” She suggests the following for combating late-night chocolate cravings so they don’t interfere with sleep or your fitness goals:
- Two hours before bedtime is optimal for eating chocolate. The extra time will allow for “proper digestion and blood sugar stabilization,” as Holtzer puts it.
- Instead of milk chocolate, go for something darker. Holtzer recommends opting for chocolate with a greater % since it will be richer in antioxidants. It’s best, to begin with chocolate with at least 70% cacao. The sugar content of dark chocolate is lower than that of milk and white chocolate.
- Avoid trans fats by not eating chocolate. Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils should be avoided, as recommended by Holtzer.
Is it a Bad Idea to Eat Chocolate before Bed?
Some unpleasant side effects, such as trouble sleeping, and heartburn, have been linked to eating chocolate before bed. You should avoid late-night chocolate munching if you care about your health.
Even so, if you snack wisely (only eating dark chocolate kinds and stopping eating at least a few hours before bed, to name a few examples), you may enjoy chocolate in the evening without sacrificing your healthy diet or active lifestyle. However, it probably would be better to make eating a chocolate bar before bed a regular occurrence.