How Food Can Affect Your Baby's Sleep
Babies and toddlers can bring a huge amount of joy and excitement to their parent's lives, but there's no doubt about it - sleep deprivation is the worst.
The mental and physical toll of sleep deprivation on both babies and their parents is huge, and if you have a baby or toddler who just won't sleep, you've probably tried every trick in the book. But if none of these have worked so far, then you may want to consider food.
World Sleep Day is taking place on Friday 19th March, and we're marking the occasion by sharing some expert insight into the role that food plays in helping babies and toddlers sleep.
We spoke to our very own expert nutritionist Jenna Hope who helps us develop our nutrient-packed baby and toddler recipes at Mamamade HQ.
Jenna has shared with us the facts how nutrition affects sleep, the foods she'd recommend for helping babies and toddlers to sleep and which foods should be avoided for little one's who are struggling.
What role does nutrition play in helping babies and toddlers sleep?
According to Jenna, parents should be aware that there are foods that can help your baby settle and sleep more peacefully, and others which have quite the opposite effect.
“Nutrition plays a key role in helping and hindering sleep patterns in babies and toddlers. Some foods may contribute to increased blood sugar and cortisol (stress hormone) levels in the evening which conflicts with the bodies natural desire to produce the sleep hormone melatonin which can disrupt sleep patterns.
But some foods, especially those high in complex carbohydrates and tryptophan can aid the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, which can help the baby or toddler to fall asleep."
There is also some evidence linking key nutrients such as low levels of omega-3 and high intakes of saturated fat with impaired sleep.”
Jenna also shared that the timing of meals can also be key when trying to promote healthy sleep patterns:
"It’s best to avoid large meals within two hours of bedtime in order to optimise sleep as large meals can increase core body temperature and stimulate digestion, which can disrupt the production of the sleep hormone melatonin."
What are the best foods for helping babies and toddlers sleep?
Flaxseeds or Oily Fish
“Both flaxseeds and oily fish are rich sources of omega-3. Low levels of omega-3 have been associated with decreased sleep quality and impaired sleep in children. Ensuring adequate levels of omega-3 is essential to support sleep in babies and toddlers.
For those relying on plant sources of omega-3, it’s recommended to consume one portion of plant omega-3 per day, these sources include walnuts, seaweed and flaxseeds. Plant omega-3 comes in the form of ALA and must be converted into the active forms EPA and DHA to be utilised in the body. Omega-3 can be lost throughout the conversion process which explains why one serving is required daily.
For babies consuming oily fish, one serving per week is ample to support omega-3 requirements. Oily fish contains the active forms of Omega-3, EPA and DHA meaning it’s not lost through the conversion process."
“Cherries can increase the availability of the sleep hormone melatonin and have been shown to promote sleep. Remember to remove the pits if you’re feeding your child cherries!”
“Oats contain a source of carbohydrates and tryptophan. The carbohydrates enable the tryptophan to cross the blood-brain barrier and therefore aid the conversion of serotonin into melatonin. Oats are a source of complex carbohydrates and can help the baby or toddler to feel fuller for longer.”
“Bananas are an all-round winner when it comes to snacks before bed. They’re rich in carbohydrates, tryptophan and magnesium. The carbohydrates and tryptophan play a key role in supporting the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Magnesium plays a role in muscle and nerve relaxation which in turn can help aid calmness and sleepiness.”
“Dairy containing foods provide a source of tryptophan which is a key amino acid required to support sleep. After 11 weeks babies start to produce the sleep hormone, melatonin which is created from the happy hormone, serotonin. Tryptophan helps the conversion process from serotonin to melatonin and therefore aids the natural circadian rhythm (sleep pattern).”
Remember babies should not be given milk to drink before 12 months and until then should be given their usual milk, either breastmilk or formula.
Add some plant-based Mamamade meals to your baby's diet that contain sleep-aiding ingredients:
Raspberry & Coconut Porridge (contains flaxseed & gluten-free oats)
Beetroot, Apple & Vanilla Porridge (contains flaxseed & gluten-free oats)
Banana, Raspberry & Amaranth (contains flaxseed & bananas)
Broccoli, Red Pepper & Amaranth (contains magnesium)
Foods that can hinder baby & toddler sleep
“Fried foods and other foods high in saturated fats have been associated with increased awakenings during the night and lighter sleep. As a result, this means the baby or toddler is far less likely to wake up feeling rested. This is why it’s not recommended for toddlers and baby’s to be consuming foods high in saturated fats."
“Chocolate contains the well-known stimulant, caffeine which can inhibit the activity of two key neurotransmitters, GABA and adenosine both of which are required to help the baby and toddler feel calm and sleepy.
The consumption of chocolate may contribute to impairing the release of GABA and adenosine which in turn can prevent the baby or toddler sleeping.”
High sugar foods
“Foods high in sugar may stimulate the toddlers’ blood sugar response and increase energy levels which in turn may impair the toddler’s ability to fall asleep.
High sugar foods can also stimulate cortisol release which in turn can contribute to difficulty in the baby or toddler falling asleep.”
“Spicy foods shouldn’t be given to children under the age of one. For toddlers older than 12 months, spicy foods are not recommended before bed as they may cause gastrointestinal disruption.”
If you're looking to add flavour to your baby or toddler's food, read our blog on 5 Tips for Using Herbs & Spices In Your Baby’s Food.
“Breakfast cereals are a common snack for parents to turn to for their children before bed. Breakfast cereals are often high in sugar and should be avoided before due to the increase in energy levels and cortisol. Oats would be a more sleep-friendly evening snack over high sugar cereals.”
Parents can be rest-assured that no Mamamade meals contain high levels of saturated fats or sugar. We used baby-friendly herbs and spices, such as cinnamon and garlic, to add gentle flavour to our organic baby meals.
My child has trouble sleeping - what should I do?
If you're a parent with a baby or toddler who's struggling with poor quality sleep, they we recommend reviewing their diet by adding some of the foods recommended by Jenna, and avoiding any sleep-hindering foods mentioned.
Diet changes won't always be a quick fix for all babies and toddlers, but by making a few small, healthy changes you'll be able to eliminate diet as a cause of sleep issues, with a strong possibility of seeing improvements in sleep.
Our Mamamade organic baby food subscriptions are an easy way to add plant-based, nutrient-dense food to your little one's diet. Subscribe today and build your first box of 12 or 24 meals for babies and toddlers, which contain healthy ingredients to help your little one get a restful night's sleep.
ABOUT JENNA HOPE
Jenna is a registered nutrition consultant who works with leading brands, including Mamamade, to help implement smarter nutrition strategies. She is the resident nutritionist at The Grove Hotel & Spa Resort, and has been featured in many leading media outlets. It is Jenna's mission to educate as many people as she can on the smart ways nutrition can change your life.