Family Health : How Diet Affects Sleep Quality
We all need to eat, and we all need to sleep. But what you might not realize is there’s a connection between what you eat and how well you and your family sleep.
Eating healthy foods can support good sleep, and making poor food choices could be a problem when it comes to getting the rest you need. And even if you’re otherwise doing everything you should to support healthy sleep (like using a comfortable mattress, sticking to a regular sleep routine, and giving yourself enough time to sleep at night), your diet could throw a wrench in it. It can even keep kids up at night or lower their sleep quality, which can be a problem for the entire family.
Why Kids Need a Healthy Diet to Sleep Well
Overall, a healthy diet is supportive of healthy sleep. The same food that helps you maintain good energy throughout the day is what helps you sleep at night. Specifically, you want to focus on foods that offer calcium, magnesium, tryptophan, carbohydrates, melatonin, and vitamin B6.
That means foods like cheese, nuts, eggs, fish, beans, potatoes, leafy greens, whole grains, tomatoes, and cherries. But it’s enough just to eat a balanced diet that hits the main food groups of dairy, carbohydrates and whole grains, protein, vegetables, fruits, and nuts and seeds.
Should You Send Kids to Bed Without Dinner?
Sometimes, kids hit a wall in the evening. You might call it the witching hour. And if they’re acting up beyond control, you might be tempted to just send them to bed and skip dinner.
Parents may debate whether this is a healthy parenting choice or effective punishment. But one thing is clear: it could definitely backfire on you. A child that goes to bed hungry is likely to struggle to sleep, so they might not fall asleep on time, and they might be up during the night, too. Even if they stay in bed, they’re likely to be short on sleep and grumpy the next day. And that could lead to another night of difficult behavior to deal with once again.
Generally, you’ll want to send kids to bed with something to fill their bellies. Even a small snack before bed could be helpful and ensure that food (or more specifically, the lack of food) doesn’t keep them up at night or otherwise interfere with sleep.
Tips for Helping Kids Eat the Food They Need for Sleep
While an overall healthy diet is good for sleep, actually getting kids to eat healthy food and sleep well is a completely different story. Use these tips to support and guide kids as they eat and sleep well.
Find out what they will eat. If you have picky eaters, they may stick to a certain set of foods and avoid deviation. It’s a good idea to talk to your pediatrician about managing their overall diet requirements, but if you can find healthy foods they’ll eat, go for it. For example, a child that will eat yogurt, bananas, carrots, and chicken breast is still getting the nutrients they need to sleep well. Try out new foods whenever possible, but make sure you’re offering healthy foods you know they’ll eat or be open to trying.
Don’t eat a huge meal before bed. Your schedule may mean that kids eat dinner and then head off to bed. If dinner is a big meal for them, they might still have a really full belly when it’s time to actually get in bed and sleep, which could cause discomfort and shift their body’s focus from resting to digestion. If possible, put dinner at the start of your bedtime routine, then give them some time and other activities in between to give them a chance to digest. For example, dinner, then bath, reading, and then sleep.
Set clear limits on problem foods. Chocolate, fatty foods, and sugary foods can all be disruptive for sleep. So it’s a good idea to avoid these foods, especially late in the evening before bed. You might let kids have these in after school snacks, but don’t let them continue to consume them into the evening. It’s a good idea to cut them off about 4 p.m. or earlier so they have less of a chance of interfering with sleep. Caffeine consumption (which can occur if kids are eating chocolate, hot cocoa, or cocoa cereals) should be limited to early in the day. Even after 2 or 3 p.m., kids might still have a fair amount of caffeine in their system by the time bedtime rolls around.
Offering your family a healthy diet can help everyone sleep better at night. Focus on giving kids the food they need to sleep well, while setting limits on foods and activities that could be a problem for sleep.
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