Hot chocolate is enjoyed by many across the globe for its sweet and comforting taste. A survey involving 2000 British adults found that the average person consumes around 3,024 mugs of hot chocolate in their lifetime. However, despite the popularity surrounding hot chocolate, there can be disadvantages to this indulgence as well. Here we explore the background of this classic drink and if it really can help you sleep.
The History Of Hot Chocolate
Hot chocolate dates back many centuries, and it’s believed that it originated from the Mayan period, around 1500BC. However, it wasn´t quite like we drink it today. The Mayans would drink it cold and mix the cocoa seeds with cornmeal, chilli and pepper. They would then pour the mixture back and forth to create a thicker texture. Following this, The Aztecs were also known to drink a form of chocolate drink, and it was said that the Aztec ruler Moctezuma II would even drink 50 cups of chocolate a day to help with his libido.
The Spanish brought chocolate to Europe in the 1500s, yet it was mostly consumed and drank by the wealthy classes. Throughout the 1700s, drinking chocolate houses became more popular, with hundreds opening in London alone, where they would serve cocoa mixed with water and spices.
In the 19th century, they began mixing chocolate with spices, eggs, sugar and milk, to create the more familiar taste we know today. The 1800´s also introduced big names, such as J.S Fry & Sons, Nestlé and Hershey, who helped make chocolate more accessible for the masses. Today, the global hot chocolate market is valued at USD 3.24 billion in 2019 and continues to thrive.
Bedtime Hot Chocolate: Pros & Cons
While most of us love the sweet taste of hot chocolate, there are several other benefits that may be appealing to chocolate lovers. However, it´s also good to be aware of the disadvantages of this indulgent drink and how it can affect your sleep.
|✓ Chocolate contains serotonin, a compound that can affect your mood and brain by making you feel more positive and calm, which could help you feel more at ease to sleep.||✗ The average high street hot chocolate can contain five teaspoons of sugar, which is associated with diabetes, obesity and tooth decay.|
|✓ Having a hot drink before bed can help you feel warm and cosy, especially if your mind associates hot chocolate with something that gives you comfort.||✗ Hot chocolate can often come with extras such as cream, toppings and full-fat milk. These extras can pile on the calories, and regular consumption can lead to weight issues.|
|✓ If your hot chocolate contains dark chocolate, there could many healthy benefits, including the presence of antioxidants, the reduction of heart disease and improvements in blood flow.||✗ Some hot chocolate drinks may not be ideal before bed as they could contain caffeine; this can depend on the type of drink and the quantity. Generally, dark chocolate has the most caffeine.|
Does Hot Chocolate Help You Sleep?
While it is known that a mug of chamomile tea or Horlicks can help you sleep, not much is known about hot chocolate. Although not directly linked to sleep, it is believed that drinking hot chocolate can help ease stress and anxiety, which can be beneficial for those who struggle to sleep due to stress. In addition, dark chocolate contains serotonin which can help relax the mind and body, as well as magnesium which can help make you feel sleepy.
Cocoa powder and chocolate also contain antioxidants called flavonoids, which research✓ has found can be beneficial for the brain. Chocolate can also induce positive effects on the mood, which may help you relax before bed. There could also be psychological factors that could help you sleep at night, as hot drinks are often associated with making you feel warm, relaxed and cosy - especially with the addition of chocolate.
On the other hand, one study✓ states that chocolate containing caffeine should be avoided before bed as it can stimulate the central nervous system. Dark chocolate, in particular, has more significant quantities of caffeine. All in all, hot chocolate can indeed help you to feel more relaxed and positive; however, there is little evidence linking it directly to sending you to sleep.
Did You Know?
A study✓ about how food affected dreams found that sweets and chocolate were the second most mentioned food group for causing bizarre dreams
Hot Chocolate Around The World
In the UK, we often pair cocoa with milk, cream and marshmallows, and hot chocolate is typically enjoyed in the Winter and Christmas season. However, hot chocolate varies across the world - perhaps it´s worth trying some new recipes from around the globe.
- Belgium: Well known for their chocolate, Belgium hot chocolate often follows traditional recipes, with high-quality ingredients and a high cocoa content.
- Spain: In Spain, it’s common to accompany hot chocolate with churros, the sweet fried dough which can be dipped into the chocolate. The chocolate is often thick and rich, making it ideal for dunking.
- India: You may find a Chai hot chocolate upon visiting India. This type of hot chocolate often consists of chai, chocolate and other spices. This can include ginger and cinnamon.
- Hungary: Traditional Hungarian hot chocolate is made to warm you up and is often mixed with spices and cocoa. Spices can include cloves, paprika and white pepper.
- Columbia: Typical hot chocolate from Columbia includes chocolate and milk, much like the traditional recipe. However, the twist is that it’s commonly mixed with cheese, to create a balance of salty and sweet.
Ethical Hot Chocolate
Cocoa production has received a large amount of controversy in recent years, with child labour and deforestation being at the forefront of the conversation. It is estimated that around 2.1 million West African children work in dangerous conditions to harvest cocoa. Indeed, 70% of the cocoa bean crop is grown in West African countries, making child labour a considerable problem in this area.
Aside from the issues surrounding child labour, there are also many environmental problems relating to cocoa production. Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana are responsible for producing almost two-thirds of the world´s cocoa - yet Côte d’Ivoire has lost 25% of their primary forest due to cocoa farming, and Ghana has lost 8%. Deforestation is largely due to cocoa being grown on the edges of forests, which are then cut down to make room for planting and to clear the area.
If these issues concern you, there are plenty of chocolate companies that are currently trying to help reduce these problems. To help, you can look out for brands that are certified as Fairtrade or Rainforest Alliance. Fairtrade ensures that producers and businesses meet the Fairtrade social, economic and environmental standards while working closely with small-scale farmers and workers. Rainforest Alliance works with businesses, agriculture and forests to help protect the forests, workers and human rights.
Does Hot Chocolate Help You Sleep? Conclusion
While hot chocolate isn’t directly linked to encouraging sleep, chocolate has many properties that can cause you to de-stress and feel more positive. A hot drink can also help you to feel more relaxed and comfortable. If you’re prone to feeling stressed before bed, hot chocolate could help to alleviate that; however, be careful of the caffeine content. Unsurprisingly, hot chocolate can also contain a lot of sugar, so perhaps consider drinking in moderation.