Sleep is essential for good health. Poor sleep quality, or not enough sleep, can negatively affect our mood, cognitive function, and immune system.
Stress can impact our sleep, and stress and anxiety associated with the COVID pandemic have meant many of us are not sleeping as well as we used to. A survey of 2,555 people across 63 countries found 47 per cent of people were experiencing poorer sleep than usual during the pandemic, compared with 25 per cent before COVID hit.
We also know stress is associated with poor dietary habits. People who are feeling stressed and tired may be more likely to reach for energy drinks and caffeinated beverages. But a high intake of caffeine as well as sugar-sweetened and energy drinks can keep us awake. So it’s something of a vicious cycle.
So what can you drink to improve your sleep?
Hot chocolate as it turns out could be a good before-bed beverage option!
Hot cocoa (commonly dissolved in milk) is also regarded as a sleep-promoting drink. The cocoa bean is a rich source of many beneficial chemicals, including compounds called flavonoids.
There’s limited research on the effects of cocoa on sleep quality. But a study in mice suggested natural cocoa may improve stress-induced insomnia.
In humans, consuming cocoa is associated with a reduction in blood pressure (in healthy people and those with high blood pressure). This lowering of blood pressure, which relaxes the smooth muscles that line our arteries, could produce a calming effect, making it easier to go to sleep.
While these sleep remedies are unlikely to be harmful, the overall evidence on improvement in quality of sleep is weak. You may like to try them, but you shouldn’t see any of them as a quick fix.
At the end of the day, several lifestyle factors can influence our sleep quality, including screen time, physical activity, stress and diet.
If you are consistently struggling to sleep, it’s best to consult with your general practitioner.
Nenad Naumovski, Associate Professor in Food Science and Human Nutrition, University of Canberra; Amanda Bulman, PhD Candidate, University of Canberra; Nathan M D'Cunha, PhD Candidate, University of Canberra, and Wolfgang Marx, Postdoctoral research fellow, Deakin University