Does Chocolate Give You Nightmares? The Surprising Truth.

Chocolate has been known to bring joy and pleasure to our taste buds but, there is a debate about its effects on our health. One of the popular beliefs surrounding chocolate consumption is that it can cause nightmares. The idea dates back to Aztec mythology, where it was believed that the cacao plant induced hallucinations and nightmares. However, the scientific evidence to support this claim is scarce. In this article, we will explore whether chocolate really gives you nightmares, the science behind it, and other factors that may influence our dreams.

What causes nightmares?

Nightmares are vivid and disturbing dreams that occur during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep. REM sleep usually happens in cycles that last about 90 minutes, and it accounts for approximately 25% of our sleeping time. During this stage, the brain is highly active, and the body is almost completely immobilized. The cause of nightmares is not entirely understood, but many factors can influence their occurrence.

Potential causes of nightmares

  • Stressful situations – stressful events such as death, divorce, or job loss can trigger nightmares.
  • Trauma – people who have experienced traumatic events such as abuse or war may have recurring nightmares.
  • Medications – some medications such as antidepressants, blood pressure drugs, and some antipsychotics might cause nightmares.
  • Illness or fever – febrile illnesses or infections may lead to more vivid dreams, including nightmares.
  • Substance abuse – consumption of alcohol or other drugs can interfere with normal sleep patterns and result in nightmares.

Does chocolate cause nightmares?

The theory that chocolate causes nightmares came from the belief that the cacao plant contains theobromine, a compound that has a stimulating effect on the nervous system, and caffeine, a well-known stimulant that can cause sleep disturbances. However, the amount of theobromine and caffeine in chocolate is relatively small compared to other sources such as coffee or energy drinks. In fact, a typical serving of milk chocolate contains about 6 milligrams of caffeine and 20 milligrams of theobromine, while a cup of coffee contains about 95 milligrams of caffeine. Therefore, the amount of chocolate that a person would need to consume to induce nightmares is likely to be substantial.

Moreover, the scientific evidence to support the theory that chocolate causes nightmares is limited. Although some people report having nightmares after eating chocolate, there is no clear link between the two. A study conducted in 2011 by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine on 784 participants found no evidence that consuming chocolate or other sweets before bedtime led to nightmares. However, the study did find a link between the consumption of spicy foods and higher dream intensity, perhaps due to the thermogenic effect of capsaicin, a chemical found in chili peppers.

The benefits of chocolate

Not only is chocolate a delicious treat, but it also has many other benefits for our health. The antioxidants found in dark chocolate have been linked to improved heart function, cognitive function, and a lower risk of stroke. Additionally, chocolate contains flavonoids, which have been found to have anti-inflammatory and antithrombotic effects.

Types of chocolate

There are primarily three types of chocolate: milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and white chocolate.

Milk chocolate

Milk chocolate is the most popular type of chocolate and is typically made by combining cocoa solids, cocoa butter, milk powder, and sugar. Milk chocolate has a less intense flavor than dark chocolate and is generally sweeter due to its added sugar content.

Dark chocolate

Dark chocolate contains a higher percentage of cocoa solids and less added sugar than milk chocolate. It usually contains at least 70% cocoa and has a richer, more intense flavor. Additionally, dark chocolate has a higher concentration of flavonoids than milk chocolate.

White chocolate

White chocolate contains cocoa butter, sugar, and milk but no cocoa solids. Therefore, it does not contain the flavonoids found in milk and dark chocolate.

Other factors that influence dreams

While chocolate may not be a significant cause of nightmares, there are other factors that can influence the content of our dreams. Here are some of them:

Emotional state

Research has shown that our emotional state during the day can affect the content of our dreams at night. For example, people who have experienced traumatic events may have recurring nightmares related to their trauma.

REM rebound

If a person experiences interrupted sleep, their body may have a greater need for REM sleep, resulting in more intense and vivid dreams, including nightmares.

External stimuli

External stimuli such as noise, light, and temperature can cause sleep disturbances and affect the content of our dreams.

Personality traits

Studies have shown that personality traits such as neuroticism and openness may be associated with more vivid and intense dreams, including nightmares.


Chocolate has been accused of causing nightmares, but there is little scientific evidence to support this claim. While the cacao plant does contain some stimulating compounds, the amount in chocolate is minimal compared to other sources such as coffee. Therefore, people can continue to enjoy chocolate without fear of nightmares.


  • Does chocolate cause sleep disturbances?
    Chocolate contains small amounts of caffeine and theobromine, which can stimulate the nervous system and cause sleep disturbances in some people. However, the amount of these compounds in chocolate is minimal compared to other sources such as coffee.
  • What are the health benefits of chocolate?
    Chocolate contains antioxidants and flavonoids that have been linked to improved heart health, cognitive function, and a lower risk of stroke.
  • What types of chocolate are there?
    There are primarily three types of chocolate: milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and white chocolate.
  • What other factors can influence nightmares?
    Nightmares can be influenced by a person’s emotional state, external stimuli, REM rebound, and personality traits such as neuroticism and openness.


American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (2011). The Relationship of Nightmares to Sleep Disturbances and Psychological Distress. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 7(5), 487-494.

National Sleep Foundation. (n.d.) Nightmares and Bad Dreams. Retrieved March 17, 2022, from

Ried K, Sullivan T, Fakler P, et al. Effect of cocoa on blood pressure. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2012;(8):CD008893. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD008893.pub2.

Scholey, A. B., Owen, L., & Wesnes, K. (2013). The effect of chocolate on cognitive function and mood. Appetite, 71, 506-511.

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