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How Nutrition Affects Sleep

Sleep is a tricky thing. For some kids it comes easy. They simply lie down, close their eyes and they’re off to dreamland. For others, as many of you know, it can be a lot more challenging. They end up tossing and turning, throwing the covers off, getting up for glasses of water and taking a long time to finally drift off.

There are many factors that affect our ability to fall asleep as adults, and for children it’s the same. For example, watching stimulating shows right before bed, playing video games or running races down the hall can get kids revved up and make it harder for their nervous systems to settle when they get into bed.  Similarly, letting kids stay up too late can make them overtired and cause problems when they go to close their eyes

Food also plays a part. There are certain foods that help calm the body down, and others that negatively affect the process of falling asleep. Adults know, for instance, not to drink a caramel latte or eat a chocolate bar right before bed. The sugar and caffeine could keep them buzzing for hours before they finally dozed off.

If your child has a hard time getting to sleep, you might want to try looking at what foods she’s eating for her evening snack, or at dinner if you don’t do an evening snack. It might just make the difference between a restful snooze and a restless night.

Top three foods that promote sleep

All foods have an effect on our bodies. Luckily, there are some that produce chemicals in our brains that help us feel calm and sleepy. These foods contain tryptophan, which produces a brain chemical called serotonin. This is what melatonin, the ‘sleep hormone’ – is created from.

Here are some common foods that contain tryptophan: 

  • Nuts, particularly almonds, cashews and walnuts.
  • Dairy products
  • Turkey

Combining these foods with carbohydrates will help activate the tryptophan in your child’s brain, so a few ideas for snacks or evening meals would be:

  • Scrambled eggs and toast
  • Crackers with almond or cashew butter
  • A turkey sandwich
  • Pasta with cheese

Unfortunately, there are other foods that can cause spikes in blood sugar that make it difficult to rest. Here are the top three foods to avoid when trying to get your child to bed:

1. Sugar

Any foods that contain white sugar are a bad idea when it comes to bedtime. Avoid giving children soda, chocolate, candy or ice cream in the evenings or before naptime.

2. Juice

Even natural juices with no added sugar contain high levels of fructose, which can also cause the sugar “high” that keeps kids awake.

3. Salty Foods

Too much salt can cause night-waking for some kids, so avoid chips and salted nuts or pretzels as bedtime snacks.

Promoting healthy eating habits is a must for most parents of young children. Knowing what helps and hinders when it comes to sleep will set up good habits for your child to ensure a lifetime of peaceful slumber.

Certified Sleep Sense Consultant Tip:

“I always found myself rushing my son to complete each step of the bedtime routine in order to have time to read a book (which is favorite part of the day).  This was exhausting for me and I felt like such a nag.  

Solution: Set a timer for 30 mins at the beginning of the bedtime routine.  Tell them once that it’s up to them to decide when they want to finish a certain step and start the next.  Complete the steps of the bedtime routine that are non-negotiable (brushing teeth & bathing).  Give them gentle reminders (1 or 2) that time is running out.  If they choose to ignore you and continue to play, then it’s their choice.  Once the timer runs out, they have to be in bed tucked in.  

This means that you are no longer the bad guy, nagging them to do things constantly.  Bedtime routine is in their control and toddlers quickly learn that their actions have consequences.  Bedtime struggles should quickly disappear, leading to a calm and relaxing evening for all.” 

Visa Shanmugam
Sound Sleepers, LLC
Giving Parents the Sleep of Their Dreams
(214) 785-1943

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Dana’s Sleep Blog

Straight talk about sleep, parenting,
babies, toddlers, relationships… and
just about anything else!
My blog is a great place to find opinions, advice, the occasional rant, and some great videos about sleep.

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