Baby sleep habits are a hot topic among parents. It seems that everyone wants to know how well your baby sleeps. Do they sleep through the night? Do they go down easily? Are they a good sleeper? If you, like many parents, struggle with your baby’s sleep habits, these questions can provoke a great deal of anxiety.
Maybe you’ve been advised to follow a calming bedtime routine, follow a certain schedule, sing, rock, or use a pacifier, but still have not had much luck. One of the most overlooked aspects of a baby’s sleep habits is nutrition. Don’t worry, we’ll tell you all about the link between nutrition and sleep, and why sleep is important for your baby’s health and development.
How Nutrition Can Improve Baby Sleep
Virtually every parent knows that once babies are eating solid foods, they need a nutrient-rich diet to support their overall health and development. However, what some parents may not know is that certain foods may help babies settle more easily and sleep more soundly.
To put it simply, some foods are more stimulating, while others promote a sense of calmness. The foods that are calming contain an amino acid called tryptophan. Tryptophan aids in the production of melatonin, also known as the “sleep hormone”. Feeding your baby tryptophan-rich foods before bedtime will not only alleviate hunger so that the baby goes to bed with a full belly, but they will also help the baby settle down for the evening and get more restorative sleep.
Foods For Better Baby Sleep
Babies are usually introduced to solid foods in the form of cereals and/or pureed fruit and veggies when they are about six months old. (Be sure to check with your baby’s pediatrician first!) At around 8 or 9 months old, babies often begin showing more interest in table food. This would be a great time to begin introducing your baby to baby-friendly foods that are rich in tryptophan, such as:
- Brown Rice (safe texture, such as pureed)
- Whole grain cereal
- Shredded chicken
- Shredded turkey
- Green leafy vegetables (cooked and safe texture, such as pureed)
Tryptophan-rich foods help your baby produce melatonin and serotonin, which are neurotransmitters that promote sleep. In addition to tryptophan, some other nutrients that support healthy baby sleep include calcium, magnesium, and iron.
Calcium helps calm the nervous system and can be found in dark leafy greens, dairy products, and fish such as salmon and sardines. Magnesium activates the parasympathetic nervous system and relaxes the muscles, and can be found in brown rice, avocado, bananas, dairy products, and beans. Finally, iron promotes deeper, more restorative sleep, and can be found in dark leafy greens, fortified cereals, beans, and tofu.
For better sleep, try to avoid feeding your baby disruptive foods such as sweets, fried foods, dried fruit, or caffeinated drinks such as iced tea as it gets close to bedtime. These can have a negative impact on their ability to settle down and fall or stay asleep.
Being the parent of an infant or toddler can be stressful. Most parents understand the feeling of spending hours rocking, walking, or even driving around to help induce sleepiness. Nothing feels quite as defeating as doing seemingly all the right things, only to look down to see your baby staring back at you bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Sleep is complex, and there are many potential reasons why your baby won’t sleep, however, nutrition is a great place to start.
Food is a powerful sleep tool that is often overlooked. A healthy, tryptophan-rich snack before bed can be a valuable addition to your nighttime routine for restful and restorative baby sleep.