Nutrition advice to help your child sleep
The lovely husband is away on a business trip to Costa Rica. I know it’s all meetings and hard work, but I cannot help feeling a little jealous. And he gets to sleep star-shaped in a hotel bed.
True, I can sleep star-shaped in ours, but last night’s peace was interrupted by a certain small person.
I took the short-term-gain, long-term-mistake route and threw back the covers. I then spent four hours being pushed off the bed and kicked in the head. I have drawn a little diagram for you (see in the photographs above) so that you can appreciate the full extent of the torture.
About three minutes before the alarm clock went off, I fell into a deep and contented slumber. I could not get out of bed but was finally removed, by my ankles, by the girls, who wanted breakfast.
Yet despite the stupor I have been in all day, there is a positive side, too. It has been a long time since I have felt sleep deprivation like that. It took the bad to see the good. My children are great sleepers, finally.
A good night’s sleep is the Holy Grail of early years parenting. If your children slept through from three months old I, a, don’t want to know you and, b, suspect there may be Benadryl in your cupboards (kidding).
Ours finally made it at nine months but then came the ear infections, throw-up bugs and potty training that made consistent sleep a thing of the past. So to realise I am in a spot where they generally sleep well and that we do too (Netflix or good book addictions aside) is a big deal.
As a nutritionist, I get asked about sleep a lot. Not because it is the whole picture, but because it can be an important piece of the puzzle. Over the years, both professionally and as a mum, I have found a few things that can make a big difference. Here are my tips:
• Avoid sugar before bedtime
You will probably know if your child is sugar-sensitive. I have one that remains immune, but one that bounces off the walls when she eats sweet things.
If you are offering dessert after dinner or sugary cereals before bed, try rethinking this. On birthdays or special events we often do “backwards dinner”, where we have the cake when they come in from school. Then we just have regular dinner later and there is enough time for the madness to wear off.
• Consider a healthy bedtime snack
“But I’m hungry.” The ultimate bedtime delayer because it is so hard to send a hungry child to bed, especially if they did eat their dinner.
Make it boring or at least not exciting, so they only ask for it if they are genuinely hungry, and choose a complex (slow-releasing) carb or something protein-rich.
Ideas include oatmeal with vanilla, cinnamon (and maybe a few raisins but skip the honey or maple syrup), wholegrain bread and butter, or a slice of ham or turkey.
• Watch out for caffeine
I’m pretty confident you are not reaching for Red Bull or whipping up a latte for your toddler. Just remember that dark chocolate contains caffeine, too, albeit less than a regular cup of coffee, even for a large portion.
I gave the girls strawberries with homemade dark chocolate sauce after dinner the other day and they took forever to settle down. So if you have dark chocolate as a healthier option at home, just keep the caffeine content in mind. Note that Coke, Sunkist and Cream Soda all contain caffeine, as do some Propel and Vitamin Waters.
• Balance blood sugar through the day
Children with better balanced blood sugar in general sleep better at night.
Try keeping blood sugar on an even keel by avoiding refined/processed carbs and sticking to whole foods that are high in fibre.
Include natural protein at snack time and with meals, eg, add nut butter to apple slices or have hummus with veggie sticks. Serve chicken with pasta or scrambled eggs on wholegrain toast, and do not forget the veg.
• Consider food allergies or sensitivities
Many of us think that food reactions are limited to breathing difficulties, digestive issues or a skin rash.
However, reactions can also include behavioural and sleep disturbances. If your child has unexplained sleep issues, consider raising the possibility of food sensitivity with their doctor, especially if the problem occurs in conjunction with slowed thought processing, irritability, agitation, aggressive behaviour, nervousness, anxiety, depression, ADHD or hyperactivity.
• Get enough calcium and magnesium
We’re all very focused on calcium — with good reason. It’s essential for growth and development. But when kids have a high dairy intake — and especially if they don’t like their greens — they might be low in magnesium, an essential mineral that helps children calm down and sleep well. Dietary sources of magnesium include pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, spinach, quinoa, black beans, broccoli, cashews, oats, tuna and raspberries. Supplementation can be discussed with your paediatrician or a fully qualified nutritionist.
Have you got any tips that help your children sleep? If so, add them in the comments below.
• The advice given in this article is not intended to replace medical advice, but to complement it. Always consult your GP if you have any health concerns. Catherine Burns BA Hons, Dip ION is the managing director of Natural Ltd and a fully qualified nutritional therapist trained by the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in the UK. Please note that she is not a registered dietitian. For details, please go to www.natural.bm or call 236-7511. Join Catherine on Facebook: www.facebook.com/nutrifitandnaturalnutritionbermuda