Good sleep is a vital component not only to an individual's overall health, but of course mood. We have all experienced days where our performance at work leaves much to be desired, we feel short tempered, and decision making becomes a real chore. Any new parent knows that long term, feeling tired can become "just part of life" and we adapt. But it isn't until good sleep is again experienced that we remember what a difference it can make. This in mind, what impact does lack of sleep have on our children?
Often in children we may find that a lot of issues may be caused by fatigue. A few days in a row without quite enough sleep can result in a seemingly completely different child. Like adults, they may feel overly emotional, find decision making difficult, motor skills compromised and of course, their temper short! In a child this may manifest as aggression, anxiety or even irrational behaviour. Before any parent endeavours to implement a new discipline method, change diet or seek professional advice, my advice is check in, and have a good look at your child's sleep first.
Aside from setting a good sleep routine, ensuring everything about bedtime and the bedtime environment is optimal, consider looking at nutrition to help good sleep become a reality. The foods we consume leading up to bedtime can have more of an impact then you might think. Obviously sugary, additive laden foods just before bed will make it increasingly difficult for your child to wind down for a restful night, (I still recall thinking my own mother completely unreasonable when she wouldn't allow me to join my cousin in a glass of nice cold green cordial right before bed!) but what about foods to actually help with good sleep?
The following are a list of some of the main everyday food sources you may like to try to aid sleep. Keep in mind though, that only very small amounts are needed. Large amounts of food may slow digestion down, leading to a disturbed night, and large quantities of liquids will of course have your child running to the toilet or filling their nappy in the middle of the night.
We've all heard of enjoying a glass of milk before bedtime, but how much of this is myth? It may be that milk has the desired effect of sleepiness due to dairy containing the amino acid Tryptophan, which gets turned into the feel good neuro-transmitter Serotonin, and then converted into Melatonin. Melatonin is our body's natural sleep regulator, produced in large amounts during the evening time, lasting during the night and decreasing as morning approaches.
Of course he protein component in milk may also help to keep us asleep for longer during the night. With all this in mind, a small serving of cheese may also work wonders.
If tolerated, a few almonds (or just some almond milk for small children to avoid choking hazards) may do the trick before bed. Almonds are themselves, a source of Melatonin. Along with milk, they also contain calcium, which also helps the brain make Melatonin. Studies have shown a lack of Calcium to cause some people to wake in the night and find returning to sleep difficult. A little spoonful for nut butter just before bed (remember to brush those teeth afterwards!) can be a lovely, delicious way to help things along.
Another favourite of mine for helping children sleep is a third to half a banana (we don't want to have a big energy surge!) Bananas contain Tryptophan, and magnesium, both perfect for helping little bodies relax into sleep, They also contain vitamin B6, which is important in helping the body convert tryptophan into Melatonin.
These foods help the body to do its job and switch off for the night by helping the brain release much needed chemicals but consuming them before bed may also aid your child's sleep more than one additional way.
Low blood sugar levels and just plain hunger can really make a difference to your child's sleep. Having this tiny snack, especially if they perhaps haven't had quite enough dinner could really do the trick. If your child wakes early, starving and/or cranky, low blood sugar levels may be the culprit.
Of course, like anything with children, routine is a huge key to success. Just the act of adding this small snack consistently may see them settle well not just because of the above benefits, but due to it being something they can anticipate, look forward to, and something that signals that it is time to wind down and end the day.