If you’re struggling to get your child down to sleep at night, have you thought to look at the food you’re giving them before bed?
Their last meal of the day—and any snacks you give them—could make or break their night’s sleep.
Certain foods are a sure no-no: sugary snacks, for example, can cause a burst of insulin to be released from the pancreas.
This then results in low blood sugar in a few hours, which could cause your child to wake up in search of food.
However, there are certain ingredients that can help your child feel sleepy naturally.
Playing with Chemicals
For some of your best bedtime food options, look for the amino acid L-tryptophan, which increases the levels of two brain chemicals: serotonin and melatonin.
When serotonin levels are high, the body experiences a sense of peace and contentment that can last for several hours.
Tryptophan is considered a natural sleep enhancer and can be found naturally in some foods like turkey, nuts, seeds, tofu, eggs and milk.
The chemical melatonin is the hormone that allows you to sleep. It’s only released at night or in the dark to regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycle.
As well as being produced by the body, there are certain plant-based foods that are naturally high in this sleepy chemical: think fruits and vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds.
Below is a list of snacks high in tryptophan or melatonin that would be a great healthy pre-bedtime treat.
Tart cherry juice
Two daily 30ml servings of tart cherry juice can help you sleep longer, according to a study carried out by Northumbria University in the U.K.
This is because the juice contains high levels of natural melatonin, so drinking it regularly can boost the amount of these hormones in your body.
It’s also low in sugar and an anti-inflammatory—so healthy bonus points all round.
Full fat cheese is a great bedtime snack—not only because it helps your child’s body create hormones and brain tissue, but also because it’s high in tryptophan.
You could combine it with eggs and milk (other great sleep-inducers) in a yummy omelette dinner.
Eggs are a good protein source and the amino acids in egg protein include generous doses of tryptophan.
There’s another advantage to your child eating eggs—they contain omega 3 fats (EPA and DHA), which offer the brain-boosting benefits that will be seen during the day at school.
The way granola induces sleep is via its high carbohydrate content. Carbohydrates make us drowsy because the accompanying release of insulin causes the absorption of amino acids.
This means that tryptophan levels stay high in the blood—and your little one falls asleep. Because granola is high in fat, it also won’t cause a low blood sugar reaction.
A small handful of pumpkin seeds can provide enough tryptophan to allow your child to start counting sheep and relaxing within minutes of hitting the pillow.
All nuts and seeds actually contain tryptophan, so feel free to interchange them for variety or add them to the other ingredients on this list.
You know that sleepy feeling you get after a big turkey dinner? It’s a real feeling that’s caused by the high levels of tryptophan in the meat.
It’s not just turkey though—chicken is a great source too and children can find it less dry.
This fruit is a double whammy—containing not only tryptophan but melatonin too. Oranges and pineapples will have a similar effect, but research shows bananas come out on top.
Researchers at a Thailand University discovered the sleep hormone in pineapple in 2012.
About a half-cup of fruity chunks can satisfy your child’s sweet tooth as well as boost their melatonin levels.
A small orange is one of those foods that always brings a smile to a child’s face. And now you can also rest easily knowing that a few melatonin-laden orange segments could help them sleep through the night.
So next time your little one is struggling with sleep issues, try them on one of these tryptophan- or melatonin-rich snacks!