We talk a lot here at The Baby Sleep Site® about how to promote better sleep for your baby. From sleep training for better nighttime sleep to nap coaching for better naps, we have so many tips to offer for getting your baby to sleep.
But here’s a tip that may surprise you: did you know that the food you offer your baby can have a direct impact on his sleep? It’s true! Read on for details.
Sleep-Promoting Foods To Feed Your Baby or Toddler
You probably know that foods containing caffeine and sugar are stimulating; for that reason, you definitely want to avoid feeding those kinds of foods to your child as a general rule, and certainly before naptime or bedtime. However, there are other types of foods that actually have a sedating effect on the brain. They produce chemicals that promote sleepiness and relaxation. These foods that help sleep contain a substance called tryptophan.
What is tryptophan? Glad you asked! Tryptophan is an amino acid that our bodies use to synthesize proteins. Tryptophan also produces a brain chemical called serotonin from which melatonin (which is so essential for sleep that it’s named the ‘sleep hormone’) is manufactured.
Foods that contain high levels of tryptophan include the following:
- Dairy products (Cheddar, gruyere, and Swiss cheeses have particularly high amounts of tryptophan)
- Tofu and soy products
- Wheat and oats
- Green leafy vegetables
- Poultry (especially turkey)
But here’s the thing: in order for the tryptophan to help your child feel sleepy, your kiddo needs to eat tryptophan-containing foods alongside foods that contain healthy, complex carbohydrate foods. Why? Because carbohydrates cause the release of insulin, which helps tryptophan reach the brain and cause sleepiness.
Good examples of meals that provide the proper combination of complex carbs and tryptophan include:
- Turkey with sautéed greens
- Whole-wheat pasta with some cheddar cheese grated on top
- An egg sandwich on whole wheat bread, topped with Swiss cheese
- Tofu with stir-fried vegetables
- Tuna* with brown rice
*Please talk to your doctor about appropriate amount due to mercury levels
You don’t need to whip up an entire meal, however, in order to feed your child some sleep-promoting food. Great sleep-inducing snacks could include:
- Whole-wheat toast with peanut butter
- Whole-grain cereal with milk
- Low-sugar oatmeal cookie with milk
- Squares of cheese on whole-wheat crackers
Please Note: Be sure to talk with your pediatrician about how to introduce solids to your baby or toddler, since some food leads to food allergies, which can actually cause sleep to WORSEN (and who wants that?!).
Of course, sleep-inducing foods like these won’t necessarily solve all your sleep problems! If persistent nighttime waking and short (or non-existent) naps are problems in your home, you may need to troubleshoot other causes of sleep problems. No amount of sleep-inducing food will help solve persistent night-waking and early-nap waking. But offering your child sleep-promoting foods is one great way among many to help ensure that you have a peaceful sleeper in your home!