Make your baby sleep through the night

Im­prove the like­li­hood of a good night with some sim­ple changes to your young­ster’s diet

Mother & Baby - - CONTENTS -

There are some very easy ways to help your young­ster sleep well this sum­mer: you could put up a black-out blind at the win­dow; cool down his room with a fan; block out the bar­be­cue chatter with some white noise…and feed him foods that help him sleep. “What he’s eat­ing and when he eats it can have a big im­pact on how well he sleeps,” says sleep ex­pert Lucy Wolfe. And it’s easy…

Have tea early

What­ever age we are, our blood sugar rises when we eat, and so do our lev­els of in­sulin – the hor­mone pro­duced by the body to use that blood sugar. The re­sult? We feel more awake and our lev­els of mela­tonin, the hor­mone that helps us to re­lax and drift off to sleep, re­duce. So it makes per­fect sense to leave enough time for this process to fin­ish be­fore bed­time.

There’s an­other rea­son to have an ear­lier tea, too. “For your lit­tle one to fall asleep, he needs to feel full, but his di­ges­tive sys­tem must be re­laxed, too,” says Lucy. “In the hour or so af­ter he eats, his stom­ach and gut are busy work­ing away di­gest­ing the food, and all that bod­ily ac­tiv­ity makes him more wake­ful.”

Make your young­ster’s last meal of the day two hours be­fore he goes to sleep and, if that means he needs a light snack later on, give it to him no less than an hour be­fore bed­time. If you’re run­ning late, then you can help the di­ges­tion process along by giv­ing your lit­tle one a drink of wa­ter 15 min­utes be­fore he has his tea, rather than a big beaker-full with his meal. “If he drinks lots at the same time as he eats his food, the liquid can di­lute his di­ges­tive juices and slow the process down,” ex­plains Lucy.

And don’t rush him through his meal. “Chew­ing grinds food down into smaller par­ti­cles, which are eas­ier for his stom­ach to digest,” says Lucy. “And when your tod­dler chews he re­leases saliva, which kick-starts the di­ges­tion process.” So, leave him time to chew ev­ery mouth­ful thor­oughly.

Eat healthy

Yes, there are par­tic­u­lar foods that lead to a good night’s sleep. But eat­ing a wide va­ri­ety of healthy foods in gen­eral will en­sure that your young­ster gets all the mi­cronu­tri­ents that seem to play an im­por­tant role in our sleep cy­cles. For in­stance, lamb, chick­peas and mush­rooms are all rich in zinc, which has a re­lax­ing ef­fect on the hu­man ner­vous sys­tem and is thought to pos­i­tively af­fect how well we sleep. Mag­ne­sium is an­other min­eral that helps re­lax the ner­vous sys­tem, and that’s in whole­wheat flour, spinach and quinoa. And iron, found in red meat, leafy veg­gies like wa­ter­cress and in dried fruit like apri­cots, also seems to help us to sleep for longer.

Now, we’re only too aware of just how tricky it can be to keep a tod­dler’s diet var­ied, but it is pos­si­ble to ring the changes wher­ever you can. Chop some dried apri­cots and pop them into his box of raisins. Make your spag bol with lamb mince in­stead of beef once in a while. And mash half a tin of drained chick­peas into your next batch of ba­nana muffins.

“An­other sub­stance that’s found in food and helps us sleep is tryp­to­phan,” says Lucy. “It’s an amino acid that’s de­tected in high lev­els in meat, fish and eggs.

It helps our bod­ies to pro­duce the brain chem­i­cal sero­tonin, which re­laxes us and helps us to drift off to sleep.”

Limit sugar and carbs

Just as the foods that con­trib­ute to good sleep are the healthy ones, those that can dis­rupt it are the yummy, hard-to-re­sist ones. “Sug­ary foods and drinks, along with re­fined car­bo­hy­drates such as white bread, rice and noo­dles, can make it harder for your young­ster to sleep,” says Lucy. “All these foods make his blood sugar and in­sulin rise sharply, which makes him feel more awake. Plus, the speed with which he ab­sorbs these foods means that he’ll quickly get hungry again, and that hunger may wake him up.”

These sleep-dis­turb­ing foods in­clude soft drinks and fruit juice, sweets, ice creams, bis­cuits and cakes, along with pasta made from white wheat or pizza made from white flour. We’re not say­ing don’t eat any of these treats, but if you want to help your young­ster sleep bet­ter, it’s worth swap­ping fruit juices for whole fruit, and white pasta for whole­wheat. And make ice cream and cakes a day­time rather than a teatime treat. “It might take a while for your young­ster to get used to the changes, but taste buds do adapt,” as­sures Lucy.

It will take a few weeks to feel the ben­e­fit of all these lit­tle changes, but once you’ve set your young­ster’s body up to nat­u­rally sleep bet­ter, your nights should get bet­ter.

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