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The relationship between sleep and nutrition

Food impacts sleep, and most of you reading this will know that to be true. We all know what it’s like when we eat too much sugar or overeat without expending the energy - both can result in sleepless nights or poor sleep quality.

When it comes to infant sleeping and nutrition there’s more to think about - particularly as babies are developing and their diet and nutritional needs are shifting. As always with our little ones, there’s a lot going on and a lot of it relating to biology and their developmental needs.

This blog should empower you with the knowledge - and science, behind infant sleeping and nutrition. 

Babies and sleep nutrition

As your baby grows and develops, so do their nutritional needs and the most significant changes are around milk. 

When your baby is around one, milk is no longer the staple source of nutrition, but a part of it. Solid foods are becoming increasingly important and your little one will be eating more and more solid food meals as you wean them off breast milk or formula.

As this is happening, full-fat cows milk is often introduced. Full fat milk is an excellent source of vitamins for babies. It has all the protein, vitamins and fats they need. And it is a high calorific value, which growing babies need. However, there are some things to consider when introducing cows milk.

Cows milk has a lot of sugar in it - approximately 5g/100mls. Naturally, sugars are going to interrupt baby’s sleep by either keeping them awake or negatively impacting deep sleep, meaning the quality of sleep is reduced. 

Sugar impacts sleep because it causes blood sugars to rise. As a result of eating sugar, the body releases insulin to take the sugar into the cells to give us energy from the food. This means energy levels will be higher. But of course, that’s not what we want in the evening. A lesser-known scientific fact is that sugar spikes will also decrease magnesium absorption, and magnesium is needed for sleep - more on this below.

When you’re weaning baby off breast or formula, try not to replace it with milk. It would be better for their sleep quality to skip a milk drink before bed, opting instead for solid food. It’s important to know that babies are so different and the transition from milk to solids will take time. The night feeds may need to be reduced over time. As baby is moving over to solids they probably won’t get all that they need to be full through the night straight away.

Food to help infants sleep

It goes without saying that the most important thing is eating a healthy, nutritious diet that’s easy for babies to digest.

We all know this, but it can be difficult to know what is and isn’t healthy. For example, fruit juices might seem like a good nutritious drink, but they’re actually loaded with sugar and sometimes caffeine. This is going to keep baby awake.

Instead, it is best to add sleep-inducing foods to their diet. Evening meals and snacks can be sleep-friendly by adding foods that contain tryptophan or magnesium. Tryptophan encourages the brain to produce melatonin, which is also called the sleep hormone. This will support the child’s natural body clock and sleep cycle (the circadian rhythm). 

The following foods contain Tryptophan and can make excellent snacks or additions to the evening meal:

● Wheat and oats

● Chicken and turkey

● Tofu and soy products - excellent vegetarian/vegan additions

● Green leafy vegetables

● Eggs

Foods containing magnesium include nuts and green vegetables.

Food allergies and sleeping

Food allergies can impact sleep. They often manifest in the form of vomiting, wheezing or rashes. If a food allergy shows itself like this it can be easy to spot, but not all allergies are easy to identify.

Food sensitivities, for example, will still impact sleep but may be difficult to identify. In this case, keeping a journal can be beneficial. You can record the baby’s food intake and monitor general behaviour and their sleep cycle. Over time you might be able to spot a correlation. Some common allergies include wheat, soy, dairy, corn, eggs, nuts and chocolate.

If you think you’ve identified an allergy, you can try an elimination diet. Eliminate one food type and see if symptoms improve. It’s important that you discuss potential food allergies with your doctor before you start an elimination diet.

Sleep and nutrition is a complex and interesting subject, and one I am really passionate about. If you’d like my personal advice and help with a tailored plan, then please let me help. It’s a total game changer for parents. 

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