Can cacao actually help you sleep better?

THE SURPRISINGLY RESTORATIVE EFFECTS OF CACAO
 By: Adriana Ayales
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THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP 101

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Sleep accounts for one-quarter to one-third of the human lifespan. But what exactly happens when you sleep? Before the 1950s, most people believed sleep was a passive activity during which the body and brain were dormant. But as it turns out, it’s a period during which the brain is engaged in a number of essential processes that contribute to the quality of our life.

When you sleep, your brain will cycle repeatedly through two different types of sleep: REM (rapid-eye-movement) sleep, and non-REM sleep. The first part of the cycle is non-REM sleep, which is actually composed of four different stages. The first stage comes between being awake and falling asleep. The second is light sleep, when heart rate and breathing regulate and body temperature drops. The third and fourth stages are deep sleep. Though REM sleep was previously believed to be the most important sleep phase for learning and memory, newer data suggests that non-REM sleep is more important for these tasks, as well as being the more restful and restorative phase of sleep.

As you cycle into REM sleep, the eyes move rapidly behind closed lids, and brain waves are similar to those during wakefulness. Breath rate increases and the body becomes temporarily paralyzed as we dream. Here is where it gets juicey. Around this time of night (4am)  is the moment when your body releases melatonin, and you enter into the realms of vivid dreaming, or potentially, lucid dreaming. An interesting side note — many shamans and “dream technicians” intake dream herbs at this time of night (around 3-4am). Most dream herbs used for these purposes have both calming and euphoric properties, which is believed that this kind of chemistry in particularly assists in inducing vivid dreaming (like blue lotus, bobinsana or guayusa!)

 

 

Here's where cacao comes in.

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THE CALMING SIDE OF CACAO

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A cup of cocoa before bed can work wonders. It not only warms you from inside out, it also makes you euphoric and calm. Why? Because of the magnesium and tryptophan found in cacao powder. You might be wondering, but what about the caffeine? Isn’t it a stimulant? Most of us associate cacao as being a stimulating food. Think again. Most cacao out there  contains a minor amount of caffeine (less than 1%), not enough to disturb you, or prevent you from a deep sleep. Even for those of you that are highly sensitive to caffeine, it’s worth giving it a try as it will actually nourish you with the calming powers of magnesium and tryptophan. However, the thought of cacao being an energizer is largely due to the Theobromine it contains, which is a stimulant, but does not affect your central nervous system like caffeine. The percentage of caffeine highly depends on the source of the cacao, some strains might have up to 3% but its a bit more rare to find.

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CALMING + SOOTHING AGENTS

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Magnesium: Magnesium is a powerful mineral that is instrumental in sleep and is a natural relaxant that helps deactivate adrenaline. A lack of magnesium can be directly linked to difficulty going and staying asleep. Magnesium is often referred to as the sleep mineral. Magnesium also fights acid buildup, neutralizes toxins, calms sensitivity to pain, quiets nerves, builds strong bones and teeth and is essential for many other functions. Over 80% of Americans are chronically deficient in magnesium. Cacao is said to be the highest magnesium containing food on the planet.

Tryptophan: Tryptophan is an amino acid that when ingested gets turned into the neurotransmitter serotonin and then converted into the hormone melatonin. Raw cacao boosts the body’s natural production of serotonin, increasing our mood and ability to fend off stress. Both magnesium and tryptophan, are necessary chemicals for the production of serotonin. Tryptophan is heat-volatile and therefore non-existent in cooked chocolate, making raw chocolate an excellent way to obtain dietary tryptophan.

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EUPHORIC AGENTS

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Theobromine: A bitter alkaloid found in cacao, also found in a number of other foods, including the leaves of the tea plant, and kola nuts. Theobromine has been studied to reduce blood pressure, support against oxidative damage, cardio-protective, raises HDL levels (good cholesterol), protects the brain, anti-inflammatory, and more. Cacao’s minimal caffeine content is often confused with a similar alkaloid, theobromine. Caffeine is said to be a nervous system stimulant, whereas theobromine is a cardiovascular stimulant, increasing heart function and blood flow and has about one quarter the stimulating power of caffeine. Cacao contains about twice as much theobromine than caffeine.

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BLISS AGENTS

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Phenylethylamine (PEA): is a neurotransmitter produced naturally in the body when we fall in love. It is contained in high amounts in raw Cacao and is one of the main reasons Cacao is associated with Valentine’s day and as a gift for lovers. PEA is heat-sensitive and is only present in unroasted, uncooked, raw Cacao.

 

Anandamide: Anandamide is a neurotransmitter that has been isolated in Cacao, and is released naturally in the brain when we are feeling happy. Aside from containing Anandamide, Cacao also contains enzyme inhibitors, which inhibit the breakdown of anandamide in the body, thus increasing its uptake and contributing to sensations of ‘bliss’ associated with raw Cacao. In Sanskrit, Ananda means ‘bliss’, making this the ‘bliss chemical’.

 

For those of you with a busy schedule, or prone to a stress-filled mind, or those of you simply needing a restorative + creative boost, raw cacao is your ally. Because of its vasodilating properties, ( the ability to widen blood vessels and improve circulation), it lowers your blood pressure, becoming a relaxing, soothing, cardio + brain protective, longevity medicine. Its highly nutritious makeup, along with the calming effects of magnesium, and tryptophan, and the euphoric-heart centered energy of PEA (phenylethylamine) and anandamide makes for an exquisite sleep remedy. No wonder it's a tradition for mothers in the rainforest to give kids cacao milk before bed! Cheers! 

 

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BEAUTY SLEEP LATTE

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Restorative Cacao Rose latte

Since I had my little ones, I’ve been one of the worst at respecting a healthy sleep hygiene for myself. The seemingly never-ending amount of sleepless nights has certainly made me into a groggy and unenthused human being at times! I kept surviving by just slamming in adaptogens when I could to bare with work and babies. But then, after trying everything, cacao is what honestly helped the most. A light raw cacao milk, with adaptogens and nervines, right before bed was the perfect cozy cuppa that helped me roll into bed without feeling completely drained the next morning,

and,  with brighter skin. 

Recipe: 

- 1-2tsp Raw Cacao powder 

- 1tsp Collagen Booster Elixir (or sub with 1/2tsp collagen booster powder)

- 6oz Almond or cashew milk (unsweetened, or preferably homemade!)

-1Tbsp Coconut Cream Powder, (or sub with 1tsp coconut butter)

- 2-4oz hot water

*Sweetener of choice, optional 

*1tsp Dream Elixir, optional

*1-2tsp Rose petals, optional 

Directions: 

On a stove top warm up your choice of milk, just lightly without boiling as it tends to spoil nutmilks. Infuse a handful of flower petals into it (optional!) until the milk turns a bit pink. Turn of the fire when the milk is hot (not boiling), and allow it to steep for about 5min. Strain the flowers.

Add the amount of cacao you desire into the milk, and whisk it intensively. I like it rich, so I add 2tsp of cacao per cup, but its up to you. If you're using the Collagen booster powder, add it in here with the cacao, and whisk intensively. Use a hand blender to make it extra frothy.

Optional, add 1tsp of raw honey or maple syrup, or your choice of sweetener.

Pour into a cup, add your Collagen Booster Elixir (if you're using the liquid) at the end, mix well, and enjoy!!

5 comments

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OFNIDGXoE October 29, 2019

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EfSUVACDhpIrnPv October 29, 2019

Hello,

Decided to make this tonight— I have all the ingredients…except the Dream Elixir. However, what is the purpose of the hot water? I suspect I add the Coconut Cream Powder after whisking the cacao to a froth to give it some sheen. Not sure though. Thanks

Andrew September 03, 2019

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