We’ve talked a before about sleep being one of the three pillars of good health. The other two being exercise and nutrition. While each pillar is equally important on their own, they work together to support optimum health. And yet many people are surprised to hear how much their diet and food choices can influence how well and how much sleep they get at night. More specifically, it’s not just the foods you eat, but also the foods you’re not eating, and when you’re eating that can make it harder to fall asleep and sleep well.
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When it comes to adults and older kids, stress and anxiety can be a significant reason for sleep disruption and disturbances. Did you know that a lack of nutrients from certain foods has been linked to anxiety and low mood? In particular, the following deficiencies may be effecting your mood and your sleep.
- Lack of Omega 3s
- Magnesium deficiency
- Iron deficiency
- Zinc deficiency
Plant based diets are becoming more and more popular, and thankfully, this Mediterranean way of eating allows people to get much more of the nutrients than what’s typically achieved through a standard North American diet. In addition to more plant based proteins, focusing on whole grains, fruits, and vegetables will make it easy for your body to function, which in turn, supports good sleep hygiene.
5 Ways Parents Can Support Sleep With Nutrition
The heightened awareness around the importance of sleep and how it affects brain function, focus and physical coordination means that parents are often coming to us looking for more support on how to prioritize sleep in their family. We’ve covered sleep environment and a bedtime routine, but in this post, we’ll be sharing how you can use nutrition to support sleep.
Mind The Gap
We know that weeknights are tough and many parents scramble to get everything done and still get kids to bed at a reasonable hour. However, did you know that eating dinner too close to bedtime can impact sleep? As your body starts to wind down at night, so does your digestive system. When you eat a meal or anything heavy too close to bedtime, you confuse your body. This mixed message means your body may stop slowing down for bedtime, making it harder to fall asleep. Ideally, no one in the family should eat within two hours of bedtime.
Not All Dinner Time Meals Are Created Equal
Did you know that your meals should decrease in size and complexity as the day goes on? For example, eating a big juicy steak or a greasy take out meal will put your digestive system into overdrive, making it really hard to fall asleep at night. Adversely, if you don’t make the dinner meal rich enough in lean proteins and fibre, it can cause some kids to wake up in the night feeling hungry. Really think about what you’re choosing for your last meal of the day and whether or not you think it will help or hinder quality sleep.
For those interested in trying some natural options to encourage sleep through food, try including some kid friendly recipes that use spices thought to support good sleep such as:
Stop The Sugar Cycle
When we’re sleep deprived, our hormones aren’t working as they should. For example, when you or your child don’t get enough sleep, the hormone that dictates and promotes hunger, called ghrelin, goes into overdrive. Unfortunately, at the same time, the satiety hormone that tells you when you’re full (called leptin) goes down. There is a very strong correlation between sleep deprivation and cravings for junk food. And as we mentioned previously, eating those high fat, sugary foods puts out bodies into overdrive, making it hard to get the sleep you need.
Have Some Structure
We are certainly in the age of the snack. Kids seem to be offered snacks several times a day, at random intervals – a habit that can wreak havoc on meal times. In many cases, a child’s expectation for a snack before, after or during an activity or as soon as they walk in the door compromises the nutrients they could be getting from a balanced meal at the table.
When kids don’t eat a solid dinner, it can make bedtime and nighttime sleep more challenging. Try instituting a simple meal time schedule so that kids know when to expect meals and snacks and that the kitchen isn’t an all-day buffet. Not only will this help with sleep, but it will help them become more mindful eaters and allow them to focus on the food they’re eating. When they’re really paying attention to what their eating, studies show they’ll tend to eat less.
Build A Positive Family Meal
It’s not a secret that sitting down to dinner together as a family benefits kids. But in addition to connection, you’re kids are also being exposed to more foods when they eat dinner as a family. They may not put that salad on their plate just yet, but watching you eat it absolutely influences their thoughts on different foods. When they see the adults around the table eating a healthy meal that supports quality sleep, you’ll have a much better chance of getting them to follow suit eventually.
If you find yourself at a loss for how to create healthy dinners that everyone in the family will eat, take some focus off the main part of the meal and focus on the side dishes. Offer at least one or two healthy side dishes that you know everyone at the table will eat, even those picky eaters. This approach helps parents reduce stress around the dinner table while still providing healthy food to fuel them for a good night’s sleep. Engaging in power struggles over dinner will not set your family up for a positive and peaceful bedtime!
Start By Recognizing The Connection
Sleep is so connected to how we feel and how we function. If your family is struggling with sleep, take some time to assess all the factors that could be influencing your current situation – including nutrition. By making a few simple changes around the dinner table or in the hours before bed, you’ll be taking another positive step towards making sleep a priority for your family.