Make your baby sleep through the night
Improve the likelihood of a good night with some simple changes to your youngster’s diet
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.
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.