Technically yes, Cacao, or to be more specific Theobromine, is labelled a stimulant and depending on the quality, intention and dosage you are drinking it can be incredibly energising.
Thankfully not all stimulants are created equal and the process by which a substance activates certain chemical compounds within the body will determine so much about how it makes us feel and the quality of energy it provides.
Caffeine Vs Theobromine
Let’s start by taking a look at caffeine, which works directly on the central nervous system and is very fast-acting. You take your first sip of coffee and the adrenal glands are immediately stimulated to produce adrenaline and cortisol, your stress hormones.
If you’re lying on a beach, without a care in the world, then this may not be such a bad thing, however, if you are like 95% of the population and tend to drink coffee as a morning pick me up, in order get you through a busy day, then you may be in trouble. To put it in the simplest terms, caffeine triggers the ‘fight or flight' response in our bodies. If your adrenal glands are overworked and fatigued by stress, anxiety and a general reliance on caffeine then you may be at risk of adrenal fatigue or burnout.
Theobromine on the other hand is much weaker in comparison to caffeine and is released much more slowly, making it less addictive, and without the jittery caffeine peak (and subsequent crash).
Unlike caffeine, Theobromine works largely on the heart and the muscles. It triggers dilation of the blood vessels and therefore increased blood flow throughout the body resulting in lowered blood pressure. Caffeine on the other constricts blood vessels and causes spikes in blood pressure and reduced blood flow to the brain.
The vasodilating effect of Theobromine makes it a wonderful carrier for other chemical compounds or herbal materials that we might add to our cacao. The term we use in herbal medicine is synergy. Think about it, cacao opens the blood vessels up and pumps fresh ‘cacao-activated’ blood around the body, making the herbs in our blends more bioavailable.
So our Sleep blend, for example, contains a potent dose of sedative herbs that are carried through the body and slowly released into the system, relaxing the muscles and the nervous system for a deeply relaxing sleep.
There is another aspect to our Sleep blend that is really interesting and that is the idea that we need energy to sleep. This is based on an Ayurvedic approach that says a depleted and exhausted system doesn’t have the energy it needs to facilitate deep healing and rest. It sounds conflicting, right? But the idea is that when our body is nourished properly, it has the strength it needs to not only fall asleep but stay asleep. A nervous, agitated, over-exhausted body is more like to suffer from interrupted or poor sleep quality. Therefore cacao provides a grounding energy and softening of the muscles, slowly released throughout the night and the herbs provide the sedation.
One final thing to note is that our Sleep blend is the only blend that we don’t recommend using a full ceremonial dose (half a disc) unless you are having it in the morning. Of course, too much of anything can be overstimulating to the body which is why we only recommend a quarter of a disc before bed. This can be a beautiful nighttime ritual, perhaps warmed with some almond milk, to wind down and prepare your body for deep relaxation.
While this is quite a sciency explanation, the anecdotal evidence is in. It may sound juxtaposing to put cacao and sleep in the same sentence but somehow it just works - really well. Why not try it for yourself!