Updated: Nov 18, 2022
If you are a parent or caregiver, there is a very high chance you and your family have have periods of sleep deprivation. There is a reason sleep deprivation has been used as a form of torture for centuries. We have all been there and it's not pretty! Unless you are welcoming a newborn into your home (make sure you are well supported and have a postpartum plan ready) when you family isn’t getting a good night’s sleep, it might be time to look at your diet.
Some foods are known for promoting better sleep. Try making these foods a key part of your family’s diet, especially in the run up to bedtime, and you may see a big difference in your child’s sleep patterns.
Eating a banana provides magnesium. This is a mineral that plays a lot of important roles in the body and it’s heavily linked to sleep. It helps to relax the muscles, which is really important for healthy sleep. But that’s not the only reason why bananas could be your family’s secret weapon at bedtime. They also contain serotonin and melatonin, both of which are also crucial for falling asleep quickly and naturally. It’s not hard to see why a magnesium deficiency can lead to sleep problems so it’s definitely not something that you want your family to be lacking in.
Almonds are another food that contain the dream team of magnesium and melatonin. Studies on rats have suggested that almond extract can promote better sleep and although there haven’t been many studies on humans, it’s thought that the combination of magnesium and melatonin will also help us to sleep.
Dairy products contain tryptophan, an amino acid. If you’ve ever felt sleepy or actually fallen asleep after a big meal, it’s likely that it was tryptophan that led to this. That’s why it’s a great idea to eat tryptophan foods before bedtime. A bit of cheese or some warm milk can be good choices just before bedtime and are likely to be a hit with kids.
Chicken and Turkey
Snacking on chicken and turkey is another way to get more tryptophan in your child’s diet. It’s also a good source of protein and some studies have suggested that eating a bit of protein before bed can encourage better sleep too. Giving it to them at least an hour or so before bed offers enough opportunity for getting the sleep inducing benefits of tryptophan. This is a great choice for a dinner or evening snack that will promote sleep.
Leafy greens such as spinach are yet another good source of tryptophan. Of course, they have a lot more benefits than this but they’re another group of foods that can encourage sleep if you include them at dinnertime.
You can boost your family’s serotonin and melatonin levels through salmon.
Fatty fish in general ticks this box but studies have shown that salmon can help with falling asleep faster. In one study, men who ate Atlantic salmon three times per week over a six month period had a faster sleep onset than those who didn’t. Researchers have suggested that this is also to do with the vitamin D content of fatty fish, which is linked to sleep too. Lots of reasons to make sure that your family eat fatty fish a couple of times per week for better sleep.
Whole grains are another sleep aid. If your family currently eat breakfast cereals that aren’t made from whole grains, swap them for ones that are. Topping this with banana is an easy way to boost tryptophan levels, especially with the milk.
Chamomile tea is one of these great sleep herbs thanks to its apigenin content. This is an antioxidant that binds itself to receptors in the brain and can make you feel sleepier. If your little ones don’t fancy a glass of milk before bed, chamomile tea is a great alternative. I used to throw a cup of chamomile tea in my daughters nightly bath when they were toddlers.
Don’t Eat Dinner Too Late
Aim to have your family’s last big meal of the day a few hours before bedtime so that there is enough opportunity for digestion to take place. If you eat too late, everyone will still be digesting their food at bedtime and this makes sleep more difficult. It’s fine to eat a snack that is likely to encourage sleep in the run up to bedtime but anything heavier can have the opposite effect. Another reason for this is getting into a good routine after dinner. The adults (and older children) can help clean up,maybe a short walk if time and climate allows, bath time, bedtime reading, (kitchen is closed except for light snack), then hopefully a relaxing night ahead.