A healthy diet is not only beneficial for your child’s overall health – eating the right foods can also help them to sleep better, too.
Which foods should my child avoid for a good night’s sleep?
Diet is even more important in babies and small children as their bodies and brains are still developing. Because they are so small, they are much more vulnerable to some of the harmful chemical effects from food.
So, in addition to a calming bedtime bath time routine, it’s worth paying attention to their diet – especially in terms of what your child eats in the run up to bedtime.
Food additives in processed foods such as sweets, biscuits and soft drinks can affect a child’s mood, triggering misbehavior. So, if your little one is finding it difficult to settle, take a close look at their diet and make sure you are not giving foods that will keep them awake.
Foods to help little ones sleep
As well as avoiding certain foods before bedtime, there are also lots of foods that can have a calming and sedative effect on your child so why not give them a try?
- Research has shown that DHA, which is the omega-3 fatty acid found in fish, seafood and algae, is essential for normal brain development, thinking and concentration in infants. As well as that, DHA also increases serotonin levels which have a calming and stabilizing effect.
- Tryptophan is a naturally occurring amino-acid, which helps the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Including tryptophan rich foods in the last meal of the day can help promote peaceful sleep.
- Good sources of tryptophan are nuts, poultry (especially turkey), bananas, dairy products, green leafy vegetables, kidney beans, tuna, seeds, oats, eggs, and soya products.
- To boost the effect of tryptophan, you should serve some carbohydrates such as pasta, bread, or rice, alongside it as these produce the hormone insulin, which aid the effects of tryptophan.
- Calcium is also said to have a calming effect so warm milk makes the perfect bedtime drink.
- Good sources other than milk include cheese and yogurt; white bread; dried fruits, leafy green vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, pulses and beans, sardines, fish with bones in and tinned fish, baked beans, dried apricots, ice cream and milk puddings.
- Magnesium is known to be a muscle relaxant – nuts and seeds, shredded wheat, cocoa powder and soya are a great source.
Mealtime tips to help little ones sleep
- Avoid protein before bedtime – protein such as red meat or fish are known to activate dopamine, which is a brain stimulant. Try to avoid these foods in the two hours before bedtime, so your little one has plenty of time to digest it.
- The exception to the above rule is protein that’s rich in tryptophan, such as turkey, pasta, oily fish such as tuna, salmon or mackerel. Tryptophan-rich foods also include green leafy vegetables, beans, seeds, banana and bread. These foods can help aid sleep and alleviate hunger so be sure to include some in your baby’s dinner. Pairing it with carbohydrates boosts the effects of the tryptophan.
- Try and make sure your baby’s main meal is at lunchtime, with a lighter meal given for tea.
- Limit chocolate – chocolate contains the stimulant drug caffeine so is also best avoided in the run-up to bedtime.
- Skip sugar – sugar and sweets on an empty stomach can play havoc with your child’s sugar levels, sending them sky high. This gives the child an energy boost and then after 30 minutes they experience a dramatic drop in their blood sugar levels. This low blood sugar level is called hypoglycemia and may lead to anxiety, aggression and hyperactivity behavior – far from ideal at bedtime.
- Eat a hearty dinner – a carb-rich meal (pasta, rice or bread-based) will help to increase the levels of the mood-stabilising serotonin, helping little ones feel full and sleepy.
- Stick to water or milk – some sweeteners in soft drinks can lower tryptophan levels and increase hyperactive and aggressive behavior. Water and milk are much more likely to help keep kids calm and hydrated at bedtime.
- Keep caffeine at bay – it probably goes without saying that caffeine should be avoided (as well as being found in coffee and tea, it’s a common ingredient in many fizzy drinks, chocolate, and some cold remedies.)