"As much as I savor a piece of dark chocolate, I've learned the hard way not to eat chocolate after 5 p.m.," says naturopathic doctor Erin Stokes, ND and MegaFood medical director. While dark chocolate boasts plenty of health benefits—it contains antioxidants that can help reduce stress by lowering cortisol levels, for instance—it's better to eat it as a "lunch dessert," according to Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, RD.
Chocolate contains caffeine, which makes it hard to fall asleep and keeps you from getting to the deep sleep stages you need to feel rested, according to Stokes.
"Your body will be trying to process caffeine, sugar and fat at the same time when ideally, your nervous system should be getting into parasympathetic, aka 'rest and digest' mode," says Stokes. Chocolate also contains a compound called theobromine, which is an antioxidant that can help reduce your risk of heart disease and insulin resistance yet affects your body similarly to caffeine.
Sure, eating a few squares of dark chocolate isn't exactly the same as downing a cold brew before bed. "It may be a small fraction of the amount of caffeine in a cup of joe, but it should be flagged especially if you have a tough time falling asleep," says Beckerman. While the amount of caffeine in chocolate is minimal, some people will feel the effects more than others if eaten before bed. "Remember everyone's body is different. Some people can drink espresso right before bed and have a restful night while others can’t sleep a wink after polishing off a half a bar of dark chocolate."
Stokes says that in general it's best to stop eating at least three hours before your bedtime, giving your body adequate time to digest your food before you crawl into bed. Eating a large meal of any kind right before bed has the potential to disrupt your sleep, but going to bed hungry can also disrupt your sleep. (Again, dramatic much, body?) If you do want a snack before bed, skip the chocolate and choose something that will actually help you sleep better, like a banana with peanut butter.
Peanut butter is a good choice for a pre-bedtime snack, but here's what else you need to know:
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