We’ve all experienced a night of sleep that was interrupted due to having eaten something unusual; our bodies continue processing our day’s food after we go to sleep, and that can impact how rested we feel the next day. The same is true for your baby or toddler; as their bodies rapidly grow and develop, they are able to handle some foods better than others.
Another way that diet impacts a child’s sleep is simply how much nutritious food they’ve eaten during the day. When a child hasn’t had as much to eat during the day, they are more likely to sleep fitfully and want to nurse or eat at night.
Parents always provide food for their children, but it can sometimes be difficult to tell whether your child is eating enough given how quickly they grow and their appetites change.
For children who have very sporadic sleep patterns, it is even more important to factor in the diet when working to help them sleep through the night. Consider the following as you explore potential ways to promote your child’s restful sleep through dietary changes.
The Role of the Hormone Melatonin
Melatonin is a hormone that has been connected to restful sleep, and one of the ways it is produced is by eating foods high in Tryptophan. Luckily for babies, breast milk is high in tryptophan, resulting in lots of sleepy babies after they nurse.
However, as you introduce other foods into their diets, you’ll want to consider some other Tryptophan-rich foods including turkey, chicken, eggs, spinach and bananas. Adding in small amounts of these foods can help your child to naturally produce more of the hormones that make sleeping through the night more likely.
Tryptophan is also correlated with Serotonin, which seems to improve mood. No one minds a slightly happier baby or toddler, so incorporating more of these foods can make the hours before bedtime better as well!
Consider the 3-Thirds Proportions
In an attempt to feed their children healthy foods, some parents don’t emphasize calorie-rich foods in the carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats. An easy way to remember is: babies and toddlers need 1/3 protein, 1/3 carbohydrates, and 1/3 fruits/vegetables. These foods help babies and toddlers eat to appetite, which means that they won’t be as hungry for night feedings. If you usually emphasize fruits and veggies as the solid foods your child eats, consider adding in healthy fats, like oily fish or avocado, and making sure they are getting plenty of carbohydrates and protein during meals.
Consider Recent Changes and Try Cutting Out New Items as an Experiment
One of the first things to consider is how either diet or sleep have changed recently for your child. Obviously, things are changing all the time with both your child’s habits and their diet, so if you notice a sleep regression, it can be worthwhile to start tracking both the child’s diet and your own diet, if you are breastfeeding.
Even healthy foods may not work for your particular baby at a particular time in their development. Some fruits and vegetables can cause children to experience gas, tummy pains and even loose bowel movements so it makes sense to cut things out until they are a little older if they are affecting sleep.
Sleep Training Can Work Together with Appetite
When babies aren’t sleeping well, they are often worse at eating solid foods as well, which can become a feedback loop where the child has interrupted night sleep because of the feedings and continues to be tired and unwilling to eat more solids.
By working on your child’s sleep schedule, even when it seems hard to do, you may get them the rest they need to build up a better appetite for the foods they need as well.
You and your child both benefit from a healthy night’s sleep, and taking a holistic approach to their sleep health will help you isolate what changes will be most beneficial.