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World Sleep Day - Nutrition Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep by Jenna Hope our Nutritionist

Mamamade – Supporting Sleep For Children and Parents

I'm Nutritionist Jenna Hope, and I'm delighted to be working with Mamamade on their products and their communications around nutrition and health. I'm looking forward to getting to know you through some of our upcoming social media content.

Today I'm really excited to be sharing more information on the link between our diets and sleep. The link between nutrition and sleep is complex and bi-directional; by this, I mean that what we eat (and the times we eat) can impact our sleep quality and quantity. However, we also know that as parents, it can be far more challenging to get adequate amounts of sleep and consequently often our diet often pays the price for the tiredness. So, in this article, I'm breaking down the links between sleep and nutrition (for both you and your bubas), and I'll be highlighting some key nutrients to help you get a better night's sleep along with sharing my top tips (albeit some of them I may not be quite so popular with).

A picture of Jenna Hope, nutritionist with a cup of drink

Let's Start With You:

For once, we're giving you the airtime before your little ones. Looking after yourself as you do best for your babies means you're far more likely to be a better parent. Naturally, when we're sleep-deprived, our Ghrelin (the hunger hormone) increases, and Leptin (the satiety hormone) decreases. As a result, we often require more food to feel the same level of fullness.

Two of the most common dietary components which help tired parents get through the day include caffeine and sugar. Don't worry; you're not alone, naturally, our bodies crave these stimulants when we're tired to provide more energy to see us through the day. However, consuming high caffeine drinks such as coffee can inhibit two neurotransmitters known as GABA and Adenosine. These neurotransmitters are released throughout the day to leave us feeling calm and sleepy. Yet when we throw coffee into the mix we're impairing GABA and Adenosine, which leaves us feeling wired and energetic. Whilst this may sound like the outcome you're going for, caffeine has a half-life of 6 hours. This means that half of the caffeine is still swimming around our blood when we consume a 4pm coffee by 10pm. As a result, we're less likely to fall asleep (and evidence shows even when we do fall asleep, our sleep quality is significantly reduced).

A bowl of organic vegan friendly breakfast

Moving on to sugar, we often see a similar pattern as tired parents tend to reach for higher sugar foods (and really, who can blame you). However, consuming these high sugar foods will stimulate a blood sugar rollercoaster whereby sugars are released quickly into the bloodstream providing a spike in energy. Although, as quickly as your blood sugar increases, it comes crashing back down, leaving you feeling more exhausted and reaching for more sugar (and so the cycle continues).

Another common vice for parents is that post-bedtime glass of wine. Whilst some claim that it helps them relax and may even help them hit the pillow, the evidence shows that the quality of sleep is significantly impaired following alcohol consumption. Can you try switching your glass of wine to a Kombucha or flavoured sparkling water?

There are two other key dietary considerations when we're thinking about sleep. These are fats and fibre, evidence also shows that those adults consuming a diet lower in fibre and higher in saturated fats are prone to lower levels of restorative sleep. Additionally, a higher fibre diet supports a healthy gut microbiome. The gut is the main site for the secretion and absorption of the sleep hormone melatonin, and therefore a healthy gut has been associated with better sleep. Small tips such as adding beans to a bolognese, soup, stew or salad can help to increase fibre consumption.

World Sleep Day - Nutrition Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep by Jenna Hope our Nutritionist

Additionally, some key nutrients are required to support sleep, and magnesium is one of the most fundamental. Magnesium helps muscle and nerve relaxation, which can contribute to sleepiness. Many people may benefit from an Epsom salt bath in the evening as the magnesium in the salts is absorbed directly through the skin and into the bloodstream, leaving you feeling extra sleepy.

One other factor which is well-known for influencing sleep is meal timing. Consuming a heavy meal too close to going to bed (i.e. less than 2 hours) can contribute to impaired sleep as the digestive tract is working hard to metabolise your food and absorb the nutrients rather than secreting and absorbing melatonin in the gut. Additionally, digestion increases our core body temperature, which we require to drop when we're preparing for sleep.

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For the babies and children:

For children, it's more about getting their nutrients in and being aware of what they're eating in the evenings. Consuming foods rich in tryptophan before bed can help with the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Foods rich in tryptophan include milk, oats, soya beans, tofu, pumpkin seeds and eggs, to name a few. Where possible, try to incorporate these foods into their evening meal.

Much like for adults, magnesium also helps to support muscle and nerve relaxation and sleep in children. However, I wouldn't recommend Epsom salts for children as monitoring the dose of magnesium can be more challenging. Instead, trying to pack in foods such as black beans, leafy greens, almonds and avocados into their diets can help to support sleep.

Calcium is another key nutrient that has been shown to help support sleep in children. It's largely found in dairy products and oily fish but can also be found in fortified plant milks and yoghurts, almond butter, soya products, figs and apricots, to name a few foods. Calcium status is also important for heart health, healthy bones, and teeth. Therefore, consuming plenty of sources throughout the day is crucial.

A picture of a toddler sleeping in bed

Vitamins B3 and B6 are required for the conversion of the happy hormone serotonin into the sleep hormone melatonin. Consequently, ensuring your children are consuming adequate sources throughout their diet is important for optimising sleep on a daily basis. Vitamin B3 can be found in brown rice, whole wheat products, potatoes and seeds and Vitamin B6 is largely found in sweet potatoes, beans and pulses and some meat products too.

Children should try to avoid or limit high sugar foods before bed, high sugar foods can increase blood sugar levels and contribute to increased energy. Which in turn will make falling asleep more challenging for children. Ideally, opting for more complex carbohydrates such as quinoa, buckwheat and oats will help with the production of melatonin as it enables tryptophan to cross the blood-brain barrier.

A picture of Jenna Hope, Nutritionist in her kitchen

Hopefully, this article has demonstrated just how interlinked sleep and diet really are. Before I share my top take-home tips from this post, I want to highlight how important it is to cut yourself some slack. Of course, there will be times where you reach for a coffee or a quick sugar hit to see you through the rest of the day. As parents, it's a natural response and given the tough job of looking after children, it's important you're a little kinder to yourself. Additionally, I always recommend focusing on one small change at a time as you're far more likely to maintain longer-term sustainable results. So with that in mind, below are my take-home tips, and if you focus on nailing just one of these, you're doing a brilliant job!

  • Avoid caffeine after 4pm (2pm if you're particularly sensitive to caffeine). Remember I mentioned caffeine having a half-life of six hours. This time frame will allow you to metabolise your caffeine to prevent swimming around 10pm.

  • Try to incorporate a source of tryptophan into yours and your children's dinner. Dietary sources include milk, oats, soya beans, tofu, pumpkin seeds and eggs.

  • Aim for 30g of fibre per day, and if this feels too much, start slowly by adding one portion of beans/ pulses or vegetables to one meal a day. Once you've got the hang of this, you can increase it slowly.

  • Switch your children's higher sugar dessert for a small pot of overnight oats, yoghurt or chia pudding. This can help prevent a blood sugar rollercoaster and support sleep.

There you have my top tips. I really hope you found this helpful, and remember you're doing the best you can, so if this all feels like too much, park it and return when things calm down a little.

Thank you so much Jenna for sharing this wealth of knowledge! If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to get in touch. Comment down below or get in touch with us on Instagram 💜 We'd love to hear some of your recommendations too. 

Chat soon, 

Team Mamamade 


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