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In answer to a question on Parenting.SE about helping a child cope with night terrors, a user posted:

Here's what you do For the little guy. For his night terrors give him 1 to 2 small square of dark chocolate candy 2 to 3 hours before bedtime every night. Believe me this works it's stops the trigger of any night terrors from happening. Now remember it must be dark chocolate candy Of high grade percentage. His fears will stop once his night terrors are gone. I encourage all parents with children that have night terrors to try dark chocolate. It's cheap and it works. Remember this is a daily regiment before bedtime. If you stop the daily regiment the night terrors will come back again. Give it a shot help your kids.

As proposed remedies go this one seems pretty harmless, but it's nice to have researched, evidence-based answers (especially for a claim that is so completely effective).

All I can find with a web search is anecdotal evidence, typically comments left on forums or blog posts (here, here). (Some say it's Hershey's special dark, others don't mention a brand, just "dark chocolate".) There is a YouTube video which also suggests cocoa powder for diabetics. Most say it should be used regularly before sleeping, one says to give it when a child wakes up.

Is there any research suggesting dark chocolate is a useful treatment for night terrors?

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    Welcome to Skeptics! This is an excellent first question, thank you. – Oddthinking May 14 '15 at 1:16
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    Hershey's Special Dark really doesn't have all that high a cacao percentage - 45% per Google. A good dark chocolate runs around 70% or better. – jamesqf May 14 '15 at 7:24
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    I'm guessing that user was some ten-year-old who knows his mom frequents that site. – Reinstate Monica iamnotmaynard May 14 '15 at 14:34
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None of the studies indexed by PubMed, a search engine of published articles maintained The United States National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health, corroborate the original claim.1 Several studies, suggest the opposite effect, mostly related to the caffeine content of chocolate. These include the following findings:

  • 2002 study published in Sleep Medicine reports on "chocolate as a possible new precipitating agent for RBD [REM sleep behavior disorder] and comment on a possible mechanism of action in this disorder."2

  • Another study finds that caffeine intake, including chocolate is "associated with lower sleep duration among 13-year-old adolescents."3

  • Another study finds that "caffeine is present in many products consumed daily, including coffee, soda, and chocolate, and is known to delay the onset of sleepiness and cause sleep disturbances."4

Please note that this answer does not constitute medical advice. It is only meant to summarize published research related to the original claim and limited to the cited sources. Consult your physician about what these results may mean for your health.

  1. Search terms chocolate AND sleep, chocolate AND "night terrors", chocolate AND nightmares.

  2. Vorona, Robert Daniel, and J. Catesby Ware. "Exacerbation of REM Sleep Behavior Disorder by Chocolate Ingestion: A Case Report." Sleep Medicine 3, no. 4 (July 2002): 365–67.

  3. In this study chocolate contributed to 5.1% of median intake of caffeine. Lodato, Francesca, Joana Araújo, Henrique Barros, Carla Lopes, Antonella Agodi, Martina Barchitta, and Elisabete Ramos. "Caffeine Intake Reduces Sleep Duration in Adolescents." Nutrition Research (New York, N.Y.) 33, no. 9 (September 2013): 726–32.

  4. Daniello, Allison, Elizabeth Fievisohn, and T. Stan Gregory. “Modeling the Effects of Caffeine on the Sleep/ Wake Cycle.” Biomedical Sciences Instrumentation 48 (2012): 73–80.

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