Sweet Dreams: 7 Nutrition Tips to Help Your Child Sleep

Did you know nutrition can play a huge role in how well (or poorly) your child sleeps? One reason I chose nutrition as a career path is that my second-to-youngest child didn’t sleep through the night for the first 3 1/2 years of his life. Yes, you read that right. 3 1/2 YEARS.

If you have a child with ADHD, autism or SPD, you know how challenging it can be to help them sleep. We went to multiple doctors, tried everything you can think of, and endured plenty of well-meaning but ignorant advice on what we could do better. His health (and mine) suffered greatly before I made changes to support a better night’s sleep. Read below for some of my favorite tips to help your child sleep better.

1. Make sure they consume enough minerals. Magnesium gets a lot of attention because it plays an important role in over 300 functions in the body. It not only helps kids relax before bed, but it can also reduce anxiety, muscle cramps and growing pains, hyperactivity, and constipation. Food sources include avocados, nuts & seeds, dark leafy greens, and black beans.

Have them soak in an Epsom salt bath, try a magnesium citrate drink before bed (like Natural Vitality Calm), or a magnesium lotion or oil. If you use the lotion or oil, test a small patch on your child’s skin first. It can sting a bit, so start with small amounts.

Calcium and zinc are equally important. Most people think of dairy when they want to increase their calcium, but dark leafy greens, sardines, and sesame seeds are also rich in this important mineral. It’s not uncommon for neurodiverse kids to be deficient in zinc. Foods rich in zinc include grass-fed beef or lamb, pumpkin seeds, lentils, chickpeas, cashews, and turkey.

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2. Feed them high-quality protein. This important macronutrient contains important amino acids that support mood, and it helps keep blood sugar stable. Dysregulated blood sugar can impact sleep, exacerbate mood and behavior, and more. Try hard-boiled eggs, nuts, fatty fish like wild-caught salmon, legumes, organic poultry, or grass-fed beef.

3. Rule out food allergies, intolerances or sensitivities. If your child reacts to foods that fall into any of these categories, it could contribute to inflammation, impaired gut health, mood and behavior issues, and sleep disturbances. Work with your pediatrician and nutritionist to identify problem foods.

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4. Try kid-safe herbs. I love teas and tinctures with gentle herbs that promote rest. Some of my favorite recommendations include Mountain Rose Herbs Quiet Child tea, Traditional Medicinals Nighty Night tea, BioRay Kids NDF Sleepy Herbal Drops, and Gaia Herbs Calm Restore for Kids.

5. Don’t feed them right before bed. Our bodies need time to digest food, and going to bed on a full stomach can prevent your child from settling into sleep. Aim for their last meal to be 2-3 hours before bed. If they do need a small snack, offer a hard-boiled egg, a handful of nuts and blueberries, hummus with a few veggie sticks, or a banana with sunbutter.

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6. Supplement with Omega-3s. These essential fatty acids (EFAs) support brain health, improve mood, and help with sleep quality. If your child will eat fish, opt for wild-caught salmon, sardines, trout, or herring (avoid high-mercury fish like tuna). Supplements are an easy way to make sure your child gets enough. Nordic Naturals has great options for all ages, include an algae-based version for kids who can’t take fish oil.

7. Avoid foods that disrupt sleep. This includes processed and junk foods, added and unnecessary sugars, sugary beverages, and caffeine. Besides disrupting sleep, these foods promote inflammation, dysregulate blood sugar, impair gut health, and can exacerbate issues with mood, behavior, and focus.

You might have noticed I didn’t include supplementing with products like melatonin, 5-HTP, or GABA or other amino acids. These are all great options, but they need to be tailored for each child because some can interact with medications. Please work with a qualified nutritionist who can guide you on appropriate products, dosages, and offer personalized support.

Also, look at your child’s environment. Some children are especially sensitive to electromagnetic fields (EMFs). EMFs are emitted from your child’s favorite electronics, so it’s good to remove devices from the bedroom, turn off the wireless router at night, and cut off screen time 2-3 hours before bed (the blue light emitted from these devices also disrupts sleep). Also consider using a diffuser with calming essential oils, a white noise machine, a weighted blanket, and incorporating a relaxing routine, such as a warm bath followed by a story and snuggle.

If none of those options work, your child might benefit from additional support, which could include a sleep study or a visit to a pediatric chiropractor or functional medicine pediatrician.

Here’s to a good night’s sleep!

Book Review--Keto Slow Cooker & One Pot Meals by Martina Slajerova

If you're new to recipes for a ketogenic diet, you'll want to read this book. One thing I've found is that while most keto recipes focus on health and simplicity, many forget flavor. This book does a great job of educating readers on the health benefits of a ketogenic diet while showcasing how delicious and flavorful these recipes can be. Having recipes that can all be done in a slow cooker is an added bonus. I liked the layout of the book--gorgeous pictures for most recipes, easy-to-find nutritional and allergen information, and plenty of recipes to choose from. I'm so thankful this author acknowledges allergens and offers a handy substitution list at the beginning of the book. In fact, the concise tips and tricks at the beginning of the book will be helpful to most readers.

I bookmarked plenty of recipes for future use, and can already recommend the Red Pesto, Make-Ahead Slow Cooker Mash, and Festive Turkey Meatballs. Next on my list is the Creamy "Potato" Soup, Filipino Chicken Adobo, Korean Beef & Kimchi Stew, Spiced Orange Pudding, and Macadamia Chai Cake.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in a ketogenic diet. A number of the recipes will become staples in your weekly menu plan. Plus, these delicious recipes make it enjoyable to stick to a sometimes tricky diet. I plan to put this book on my recommended resources list for nutrition clients and I look forward to seeing more recipes from this author.

*I received an e-copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This review is also posted on my Goodreads page.

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Book Review--Keto for Cancer

I received an e-copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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This is one of the best books on the ketogenic diet that I've read, and I plan to recommend it often. Before I get to what I loved about this book, first let me acknowledge my appreciation for Ms. Kalamian sharing her family's experience with cancer and this diet. Her compassion and understanding of the trials a family will face when given a cancer diagnosis are clear from beginning to end. Her understanding of the ketogenic diet is impressive.

I loved everything about this book. She does a fantastic job outlining the science behind both cancer and the ketogenic diet. She covers supplements and nutrition thoroughly--more thoroughly than most. She devotes plenty of pages to contradictions and considerations, which highlights how seriously she takes this topic. Everything is presented in a concise and smart style that makes it easy for readers to understand. I also appreciate how she gives a nod to various other experts and books. She frequently recommends to readers to explore the information available, advocate for themselves, and always get a second opinion. 

This isn't your average diet book. It's a comprehensive look at how a ketogenic diet can be a helpful tool after a cancer diagnosis. Readers will come away with a solid understanding of how to work with their medical team to incorporate this diet. They'll have more tools to work with, including website and book recommendations, online nutrition software and calculators, and most importantly, a resource written by someone who truly understands their needs and challenges.

I highly recommend this book and plan to refer to it frequently in my nutrition practice.

*This review is also posted on my Goodreads page.