How Much Caffeine Is Really in Chocolate? Here's the Truth Behind the Buzz

We know by now that chocolate has some pretty solid health benefits, and we like to keep reminding ourselves of those when we break into a chocolate bar at 10 p.m. But we've also heard that the sweet stuff can contain a decent amount of caffeine. So are we crushing our chances of getting a good night's sleep by devouring chocolate right before bed?  Does chocolate really have enough caffeine to cause tossing and turning?

The simple answer: Probably not. But the more complex answer: Yes, chocolate does contain caffeine in varying amounts, but it might not be to blame for your bad sleep habits. The average amount of caffeine consumed per day per person is about 300 milligrams. The majority of caffeine comes from coffee, soft drinks, and tea, with less than 2.3 milligrams per day attributed to food.

But don't go scarfing it down at bedtime, thinking you're in the clear. Some of us may be more sensitive than others (especially those who don’t drink coffee, soda, or tea on a regular basis) and experience crazy alertness post consumption (you know, it's like the adult version of a sugar high).

Plus, there may be another culprit lurking in chocolate that makes catching zzzs tougher: New research points to theobromine, a compound that also comes from the cacao beans, which has similar physiological effects to caffeine but is actually more abundant in chocolate than caffeine (research is still limited in this area, but it's safe to say that the low amounts of caffeine in chocolate isn't solely to blame for restless nights).

If you want to play it safe, skip the chocolate altogether when the sun goes down. And even better, do your best to stop eating it before 3 p.m. since chocolate can stay in your system for up to six hours. 

How Much Caffeine Is in Chocolate?

So let's talk numbers: Exactly how much caffeine is in the chocolate that you're eating? And in addition to your morning coffee and afternoon tea, are you getting too much? There’s not necessarily a recommended daily intake, but researchers from the Mayo Clinic recommend a safe amount of no more than 400 milligrams per day for most healthy individuals. For those with specific disease conditions or those who are pregnant, the amounts are much less.

For now, use the following as a guide to help lay the foundation for the amount of caffeine found in your favorite chocolate treats. And keep in mind that a standard cup of coffee contains about 150 milligrams of caffeine.

Standard Caffeine Amounts in Chocolate Foods

Note: This info was retrieved from the USDA Food Composition Database.

  • Dark Chocolate (60-85% cacao solids)
    1 ounce (1/4 Lindt chocolate bar) = 23 milligrams   
  • Cocoa Powder
    1 tablespoon = 12 milligrams
  • Dark(ish) Chocolate (45-59% cacao solids) 
    1 ounce (3 dark chocolate Hershey Miniatures) =  12 milligrams 
  • Chocolate Cake With Chocolate Frosting
    1 slice (1/12th cake with 2 tablespoons frosting) = 9 milligrams
  • Milk Chocolate
    1 ounce (4 milk chocolate Hershey Kisses) = 4 milligrams
  • Chocolate Pudding Cup
    1/2 cup (4 ounces) = 4 milligrams
  • Chocolate Chip Cookie
    1-ounce cookie = 3 milligrams
  • Chocolate Ice Cream 
    1 small container (3.5 fluid ounces) = 2 milligrams
  • Chocolate Whole Milk
    1 cup (8 ounces) = 2 milligrams
  • White Chocolate
    1 ounce (2 tablespoons Nestle white chocolate chips) = 0 milligrams

If you picked up on the trend, yes, the darker the chocolate, the more caffeine it typically contains. It also may have more nutritional benefits, but it might not be worth it if it's keeping you up at night. At the end of the day, you know your body best, so do what feels right for you. If that means enjoying a milk chocolate chip cookie and glass of milk on occasion as a dreamy way to enjoy a low-caffeine treat before bedtime, you do you. 

Want more? Can You Become Addicted to Chocolate? Science Explains