Question:“Are there any dietary changes that I can make to help aid a good night’s sleep for my toddler? I’m struggling with his wakeful cycle at night time.”
It is a difficult time for any parent when their child doesn’t sleep through the night. The impact it can have on the parent can lead to feelings of exhaustion and irritability, and this is also true for the child. During the night we experience various stages of sleep cycles – beta/ alpha/ theta/ delta (deep sleep)/ REM and theta again.
We pass through each of these sleep phases when our body is in a balanced state, but there can be many factors that affect this: *Regularity of eating/ food choices
*Production of tryptophan and melatonin
*Exposure to electromagnetic frequencies
Toddlers naturally tend to be grazers and barely seem to eat enough to sustain themselves, yet they still seem to have a high energy expenditure. It is easy to fall into the habit of offering healthy snacks to ‘see them on’ until the next meal. The issue with this is that eating every 2-3 hours during the day, means the body expects to be fed every 2-3 hours, and this can include the night-time too. Going for a full 10-12 hours becomes a challenge for their little body.
We are designed to burn fat through the night because it burns long and slow, in contrast to sugar and carbohydrate which burn quickly. If the child’s diet is based on carbohydrate-type snacks, then fat metabolism doesn’t occur during the night at all, so the body attempts to burn sugar and carbohydrate through the night as it did during the day, which results in short, emergency bursts of energy. Sleeping through the night becomes a difficult task.
Some general tips are to:
Eat three meals a day with no snacks.
Avoid processed foods such as rice cakes, bread sticks, cakes, ready-meals, sweets, tea cakes, croissants etc.
Eat fruits whole and avoid fruit juice.
Increase intake of non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli, green beans, cucumber, spinach, avocado, peppers, courgettes, squashes.
Try to increase water intake. Ok, this is not always an easy thing to do with a toddler, but playing games such as using a dropper and squirting into the mouth can be great fun. It can be frustrating when they’d rather drink the bath water!
Try to increase protein intake throughout the day to sustain blood sugar – can be vegetarian and non-vegetarian sources.
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is needed for the production of melatonin, which regulates sleep pattern. The body cannot produce tryptophan, so it is essential it is obtained through food. It is highest in organ meats and seafood, but other useful sources are eggs, turkey, spirulina, spinach, tofu, sesame, sunflower and pumpkin seeds. These types of foods can be consumed regularly throughout the day, as they will also help to raise serotonin which creates a happy child! If your child is desperate for a snack at night, then try to make it high in protein and fat. Try these yummy pancakes, but only give a small strip- the rest can be eaten at breakfast: Mix 3 eggs, 2 tablespoons of almond butter and 1 mashed banana. Fry in coconut oil in small batches.
The other thing needed to produce melatonin is a completely dark room. This helps to signal for the pineal gland to release melatonin into the blood. A slight chink of sunlight or a night-light can be enough to prevent the release of melatonin. Consider what may be in your child’s room as exposure to electromagnetic fields can also deplete melatonin.
Remove any plugged-in electrical device as it will generate EMF’s. Consider what may be behind your child’s wall, parallel to it, or underneath, as wi-fi and cables may be interfering with the brain waves (beta/ alpha/ theta/ delta/ REM).
Following these techniques can obtain results within 7-10 days, but you should always check with your GP or health visitor in case there are some other underlying issues. Best of luck, and here’s to a good night’s sleep!
Gabi Heyes, Naturopath, Herbalist and Iridologist practicing at Natural Practices Clinic. Gabi is a graduate of CNM – College of Naturopathic Medicine, www.naturopathy-uk.com.