As a parent of 4 kids, I often find myself saying, “What’s my kid eating now?” I mean I usually know what they’re eating, but sometimes they sneak food. And sometimes I give them things that aren’t the best, because we’re on the run to school, sport, or other activity. Life is busy and kids are hungry like…all.the.time! So I’m sure you’re wondering what this has to do with sleep, right? Well, it has a ton to do with it!
The foods our children eat and drinks they consume can affect their sleep, digestion, clarity, mood, energy level, and more. The time of the day the food/drink is consumed can also have an impact on sleep, too. So if you’re a parent who’s not always sure what their kiddo is eating and when, then you’ll want to keep reading and you might want to reconsider your parenting style a bit. Let me explain…
Let’s say that your child’s evening snack consists of a slice of watermelon, chocolate teddy graham crackers, and a small glass of milk. Sounds reasonable, and even pretty healthy, right? Well, it sort of is and sort of isn’t. A slice of juicy watermelon is certainly healthy, but not the best choice before bed. Watermelon is water-based and can cause a potty-trained child to possibly wake up in the middle of the night to go potty, or can cause a diapered child to leak through their diaper. All that extra liquid has to go somewhere! Also, all fresh fruit has natural sugars in it, which means that it can give your child a boost of energy right when you need them to get sleepy. How about the chocolate teddy grahams crackers? Crackers aren’t bad, right? These kind are! Anything made with chocolate means that there’s a good amount of sugar in it, which again gives your kiddo a jolt of energy. And the darker the chocolate, the higher the content of caffeine, so that can also add to the issue.
Finally, there’s that small cup or bottle of milk. Most parents add in some sort of milk product after their child is 1 year old; and oftentimes it’s a replacement from formula to cow’s milk. Because babies are usually drinking a bottle of formula or nursing before bed, parents will usually keep the routine in place and replace the formula for milk (nursing moms may continue this past 1 year old). But formula is not the same as pasteurized cow’s milk. Having a bottle or cup of milk before bed can also affect bedtime with the sugar found in it, as well as the fact that it’s a liquid, which can again cause urination issues. For potty trained kids, you want to watch how much they’re drinking after dinner, so they’re not up during the night to go to the potty. It can also increase the risk of bedwetting for some children.
So what can they eat, you ask? Well, there are foods that are considered to be helpful for sleep. Some examples are:
- tart cherry juice/cherries
- whole grain crackers/bread
- whole grain cereals
- cheese, frozen Greek yogurt, low-fat milk (some parts of it can make you sleepy, but other parts have sugar so it’s kind of a wash in my book but I wanted to mention it), and other dairy products
- corn chips
- white rice
- green leafy vegetables
Many of these products either have or help tryptophan reach the brain (that’s the hormone that helps us to feel sleepy, like when we eat a turkey dinner on Thanksgiving). We want our kids to be eating foods like this that can help them to feel tired when it’s close to bedtime.
Besides what they’re eating, you also want to be aware of when they’re eating. Remember, this is a snack, not a meal. Full meals should be eaten about 3 hours prior to bedtime, as overstuffed bellies can make sleep more restless and cause digestion issues (and more night wakings). And of course you want to make sure that your kids are brushing their teeth after their tasty snacks or any drinks other than water, so they don’t get tooth decay.
To summarize, bedtime snacks are great and can be very effective, as long as they’re the right kind of snacks offered at the right time. You want to choose your child’s snacks so that they work in your favor to make bedtime an easy process. And if your kiddo is a “food-sneaker” like my son (he loves candy), keep it all locked up or hidden so they can’t sneak it in when you’re not looking. Then you’ll never have to ask yourself “what’s my kid eating now?”
*If you need help with your child’s sleep, let’s chat! I offer free 15min phone calls, so that we can discuss your child’s unique situation. What kids eat is just one small reason why their sleep can be off! Oftentimes, there’s a behavioral component that we’ll also work on. Together, we can work on getting your child’s sleep back on track for both bed and naps, if applicable. You can check out all my other services here (from parenting, infant massage, lactation, and more)!