Food and sleep - are they connected?



It can be easy for parents to overlook the impact that foods has on their children. Whether infants are receiving nutrients through breastmilk or older babies/toddlers are eating solid foods, the types of foods that are put into the body can impact sleep. While becoming a certified holistic health coach I learned about how different types of foods impact the body and how it functions. Food is more than just calories; food impacts all parts of a person’s life and wellbeing, including sleep. I use my health coach knowledge often in my infant/child sleep consulting practice. Note- I always recommend parents consult their pediatrician first prior to making any food changes in their own or their baby’s diet.

When working with nursing mothers I often discuss their diet with them. Breastmilk can be impacted by a mother’s diet; therefore it is important to look at what the mother is eating. A diet including too much caffeine and/or sugar can affect how their baby sleeps. Babies can also have sensitivities to things that the mother eats such as dairy, chocolate, and legumes. If challenges such as gas, reflux, skin rashes, etc. are present I will often suggest removing certain foods from the diet in an effort to identify a potential source of the pain/discomfort.

When babies and toddlers begin consuming solid foods, it is a fun time for all. However, what foods parents feed their children at various times in the day matters.  I always recommend parents introduce any new food in the morning when they are able to monitor their baby all day for any allergic reaction. After foods have been tested for allergies (and when children are of recommended age for particular food groups), I encourage parents to offer foods with higher fat content and lower sugars in the evening hours prior to sleeping. Foods such as avocado, nuts, and cheese are good solids for dinnertime hours because they help you feel full for a longer period of time through the night. Foods that are high in calcium and magnesium can also help with sleep as these minerals help calm the nervous system. That means bananas, as well as low-sugar dairy and green leafy veggies are wonderful evening solids to offer as well.

Foods that contain tryptophan are perfect options for pre-sleep meals because they help encourage feelings of satiety and sleepiness. Offering foods such as turkey, chicken, fish, nuts, and eggs are great evening options for this reason. Ideally you want to couple these high tryptophan foods with complex carbs to increase their sleepy properties, so add in some whole grain pasta, brown rice, or whole wheat bread along side or blended in.  I encourage parents to avoid offering their children foods with higher natural or added sugars as well as simple carbohydrates in the evening and instead to offer these foods earlier in the day, if they choose to offer them at all.

Many sleep consultants agree that sleep foundations and the overall health and wellbeing of a child are paramount when it comes to the quality of a child’s sleep. I agree with that whole-heartedly. Similarly, I feel that food and nutrition is a huge piece of a child’s overall health and wellbeing. I have found the knowledge I have gained in both areas has been invaluable and enables me to better support my clients.

Want to chat more about food and sleep?  Send me an email and we can schedule a call:

My name is Amy Bonsiero. I am a Pediatric Sleep Consultant and the founder of Mind Body Family, LLC. I help families learn how to soothe their infants, create loving and supportive environments for their children, create effective and realistic family schedules, and successfully get their entire families sleeping more soundly. Let me know what I can do to help you!