The role of food in sleep
There are lots of theories as to how food can affect sleep. Unfortunately there is not a whole lot of good sound research behind these theories. However one thing we know is that a well nourished, healthy baby and toddler will have a better chance of a good peaceful night sleep. Hunger and illness will most definitely wake up and disrupt the sleep of a baby and toddler. When a child is battling to sleep or sleep is disrupted it is always a good idea to consider nutrition first and foremost as this is the most easy area to fix.
Nutrition can affect sleep in a number of ways:
- Under nutrition and micronutrient deficiencies
- Poor nutritional habits eg feeding through the night (especially in older babies and toddlers)
Under nutrition and micronutrient deficiencies
A child that doesn’t take in sufficient intake of all the nutrients over an extended period of time will have a greater risk of becoming malnourished. This may influence the sleep habits of the child. The nutrients that are necessary for a growing baby and toddler include:
Starch and grains: like oats, spelt, maize, wholegrain wheats.
Protein foods like: fish, meat, beans, chicken, eggs
Fats: oils, butter, avocados, nuts and seeds
Fruit and vegetables contain vitamins and minerals which help the immune system to fight infections. They also contain gentle fibres that help to prevent constipation.
Water In addition to their milk intake, when babies start with protein foods they will need additional water even if 10-30ml after each meal. As they grow, encourage more and more water drinking!
Micro nutrient deficiencies that may affect sleep:
A child that is anaemic may struggle with sleep. If you suspect your child is anaemic, have your doctor check him out and some Iron supplementation may be necessary. This should only be done under guidance of HCP as too much Iron supplementation can be toxic. Iron rich foods include red meats, chicken, eggs, spinach, broccoli, pumpkin seeds, apricots, raisins.
Zinc is a critical nutrient for good immune function and a baby or toddler deficient in zinc may be more vulnerable to picking up illnesses. A child who is ill frequently will be more likely to eat and sleep poorly. Zinc is found in chicken, beef, lamb,mushrooms, beans, cashew nuts (cashew nut butter), pumpkin and squash seeds and spinach!
Constipation seems to be plaguing babies and toddlers more than ever. Constipation can have a direct impact on sleep in one of two ways.
- It is very uncomfortable to be constipated so this will prevent peaceful sleep
- A constipated child can loose appetite as there is just no space for more food, as a result they remain semi hungry and struggle to settle.
A good nutritious diet with additional water will go a long way to help keep your baby and toddler regular.
Poor night nutritional habits
This is a trap one can fall into so easily. Between 6-9 months you can start getting rid of night nutrition. The risk of keeping night nutrition is poor eating in the day time and poor sleeping in the night time. Often one has to remove the night feeds before day feeds can pick up and night sleeping can be attained. It may be helpful to have a health care professional involved to put your mind at rest. They will help you determine how many calories your baby or toddler needs in a day. This will put your mind at rest and allow you to gently sleep train at night knowing your little one is well nourished.
Brauns Top Nutritional and other Tips for a good night sleep
- Avoid late afternoon or evening sugar consumption (juices and fizzy drinks are usually a huge source of sugar)
- Avoid feeding your baby and toddler later than 2 hours before bed if it seems to energize them. (eating too late at night raises the metabolic rate and can energize them).
- Limit over stimulation. Limit television and rowdy games just before bed time. Play beautiful, soothing music of your choice to help calm and relax your household.
- Have a quiet period just before bed. An easing off period is important because most children have trouble going from full throttle to sleeping peacefully.
- Having an evening bedtime snack that contains tryptophan. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that the brain converts into melatonin, which assists in sleep. Many babies and toddlers have a bottle or sippy cup of warm milk, this is calming and is a good source of tryptophan. Other sources of tryptophan include cottage cheese, yogurt, pineapples, plums, bananas, eggs, turkey, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, cashews and peanuts.
- It is a good idea to combine the tryptophan rich foods with complex carbohydrates like whole grain crackers, breads, cereals. It heklps the brain to absorb the tryptophan. Bedtime snacks suggestions: Oats porridge with milk, peanut butter sandwich, yogurt, nut and seed smoothie.
- Give your Toddler a ten minute warning before its time to get ready for bed to help him make the transition and finish up what he is doing.
- Give your baby a consistent bedtime routine to warn her that sleep time is coming. A warm bath is particularly soothing for most children because it relaxes the muscles and gets their bodies ready for rest.
- If your child is overly sensitive to sound or light, keep the lights dim and your voice soft and gentle.