Sleep is an essential part of our health from the day we’re born – it’s critical to both physical and mental development in babies, children and young adults.  And without having the numbers at hand, I could only guess that it’s one of the topics with the biggest Google hits when it comes to infants and toddlers. Since sleep is one of the topics that also pops out often during my client sessions, I decided to connect the dots when it comes to sleep and nutrition.

Before you dive in, know that this article is not meant to be an automatic fixer to your child’s sleeping patterns or difficulties. A holistic approach is essential in order to ensure a restful and restorative sleep for your child. And to better understand what that means, I asked Ana Bunea from I Love Sleep, Baby to take us through the main points from her knowledge and experience as a Certified Child Sleep Coach.

“Sleep is awesome, but we already know that, right? We learn to appreciate it even more when we start missing it so badly.

In adults, a lack of sleep has been associated with a wide range of negative health consequences including cardiovascular problems, a weakened immune system, higher risk of obesity and type II diabetes, impaired thinking and memory and mental health problems like depression and anxiety.

As it is always best to prevent than treat, it is important to get to the bottom of any sleep issues as early on as possible. And we need to look at sleep holistically, which actually means looking into everything that relates to someone’s sleep.

When it comes to children, the corrected age would be the first thing to establish. Especially when working with preemies. Correctly assessing the age gives us realistic expectations on babies’ sleep since a huge part of it depends on biology, sleep cycles and circadian rhythms.

Then we need to look into the family context (siblings, parental health, environment, cultural context – different country, different sleep arrangements), emotional and mental health (1 in 8 women suffer from postpartum depression), anxiety and stress.

Nutrition, allergy, intolerances, feeding problems and nutritional deficit could also affect sleep. On the other hand, exercise, good sleep hygiene and a balanced set of daily activities may improve one’s sleep.

Last, but not the least, the missing puzzle piece could be the overtiredness. Never underestimate overtiredness. If babies are exhausted, then they should sleep, right? No, not really. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite. Overtired bodies are full of cortisol and adrenaline, not the best hormones to ride on just before sleep. So, before bedtime, try dimming the lights, putting away all screens, and giving your babies a bath and a relaxing massage in order to get them ready for bed.”

Taking a more thorough look at nutrition can sometimes represent some fine-tuning when it comes to children’s sleep. One that’s very worthwhile investigating. Here are a few things that are important and worth being mindful of when it comes to the connection between your child’s sleep and nutrition.


While this is a topic for an article on its own, it’s important to mention that food allergies and sensitivities can have a disturbing effect on your child’s sleep.

Most common food allergens can be a culprit of either a food allergy or a food sensitivity. An immediate reaction – within minutes or up to 2 hours after eating the respective food – usually means it’s a food allergy. If a child develops symptoms after 2 hours and up to 3 days following introduction, it’s not likely to be a true food allergy, but a food sensitivity.

Either way, some of the mild potential symptoms that can be associated with an immediate food allergy or a delayed food sensitivity can interfere with your child’s sleep. Potential symptoms can vary from nasal (congestion, runny, stuffy, sinus problems, excessive mucus, sneezing, constant cold symptoms) to respiratory (difficulty breathing, coughing, wheezing, asthma), gastrointestinal (constipation, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, bloating, gas, stomach pain, cramping, etc.) and even behavioral issues (difficulty sleeping, fatigue, restlessness). 

One of the things I recommend in my practice is to introduce common food allergens slowly and individually starting with 6 months of age. Here I am referring to egg (yolk and white), wheat, cow’s milk, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish and fish. What’s not on this list is sesame, which is also a top allergenic food in some countries and will be also listed as the 9th top allergenic food in the US starting 2023.

During my Starting Solids program, I help parents navigate how to introduce allergens in a safe and confident way. While more and more studies show that it is important to expose our babies to common food allergens before they turn 12, as early exposure can actually decrease your baby’s potential risk of developing allergies, there is really no need to rush. It’s important to monitor their reactions after each allergen introduction, as this way it’s much easier to connect potential symptoms to a specific food rather than getting to a point where an elimination diet might be necessary to identify triggers to specific symptoms.


I won’t lie. Studies on the connection between macronutrient mix and sleep quality are limited and, moreover, available results are inconsistent. But trust me on this – balancing our childrens’ meals is important for a large number of reasons. It’s common and relatively easier to offer meals that are rich in carbohydrates – bread, pasta, cereals, etc. But our children need all three macronutrients on a regular basis (ideally every day if not every meal).

Healthy fats are necessary for protecting major organs and building nervous system tissue, for increasing nutrient absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D3, E, K2) and calcium and for preventing constipation.

Proteins are important to build our babies bodies, including making heart, lung, and intestinal tissue, other muscles, antibodies, hormones, enzymes, bones, ligaments and more.

There are two specific reasons why balancing meals is important when it comes to sleep: the fact that this helps to stabilise blood sugar and keeps your baby satiated for longer. And while satiation shouldn’t be a purpose on its own regardless of the foods it’s achieved with, offering nourishing meals that are also satious to our children is important. 


If you’re reading this article, you’ve probably already read tons of articles, Instagram posts and books with regards to babies’ sleeping schedules. There are so many useful resources out there when it comes to this topic! I’ve also noticed that keeping a sleep schedule generally helps our baby sleep better. We’ve always tried to respect his nap times and bedtime hours (of course there are always exceptions!) and it’s proven beneficial not only for him, but also for our own rest and sleep. 

There isn’t much going on when it comes to infant / toddler sleep and chrono-nutrition though – a new form of nutrition adjusted to suit each individual’s biological clock. But we know that babies and toddlers thrive when they know what and when to expect and designing a meal schedule that works for the entire family can be helpful for several reasons:

  • We provide our children with structure, which is something they really need, especially once they enter toddlerhood.
  • It generally leads to less snacking throughout the day, which is less often as nourishing as a meal and it generally manages to rapidly increase their blood sugar levels, since snacks are often based on refined carbohydrates. When this happens on a regular basis, it can lead to sleep difficulties.
  • It helps us time dinner relative to bedtime so that they don’t go to sleep too full, but also not too hungry. 
  • Although their schedule might not always fit ours and our hunger cues, it does give us the opportunity to do family meals at least once a day. 

What’s always more important is to pay attention to our children’s hunger cues and avoid the trap of “you have to eat because it’s lunchtime”. If they spend all morning running around, they will most probably be hungry earlier. If they’re sick, a meal schedule becomes secondary, hydration and rest are key.


I don’t believe in quick fixes or miracle foods. I am a firm believer that all real foods have a certain role in our nutrition and the more we vary the better. Obviously while keeping each individual’s needs and conditions in mind. To answer this question though, I’ll take you through each macronutrient again.


With regards to specific foods that can support sleep though, some studies have shown a connection between tryptophan and sleep improvement. Tryptophan is an amino acid that helps the body make the sleep-inducing neurotransmitters serotonin, a mood stabiliser, and melatonin,  which helps regulate sleep patterns. 

And simply put, amino acids are molecules that combine to form proteins. Tryptophan is actually an essential amino acid, which means that it cannot be produced by the human body and needs to be obtained through foods.

Plant-based sources of tryptophan are cashews, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, beans, green vegetables, mushrooms and oats. Animal-based sources of tryptophan are chicken, turkey, red meat, pork, fish, milk, eggs.

One study mentioned that including tryptophan rich foods for breakfast is important to “keep morning-type diurnal rhythm and a high quality of sleep through the metabolism of tryptophan to serotonin in daytime and further to melatonin at night”.


Carbohydrates are our bodies’ preferred source of energy and it’s been studied that they also help tryptophan reach our brain more easily. Complex carbohydrates like root and non-starchy vegetables are ideally part of your child’s meals on a daily basis: broccoli, beets, carrots, cauliflower, eggplant, hard squash, mushrooms, parsnip, potatoes or sweet potatoes, spinach, turnips, yams, zucchini.


Healthy fats, particularly omega-3 fatty acids, may also improve sleep quality. One explanation is that they help to reduce inflammation. Vegetable and animal sources of omega 3 fatty acids are fatty fish – like herring, salmon, sardines, cod, trout, etc. – and flaxseed (oil and ground), walnuts (whole and oil), chia seeds, pecans, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds.

It’s not only macronutrients that we need to pay attention to though. Iron is a mineral that carries oxygen throughout the body and low levels or iron deficiency can have an adverse effect on sleep. More precisely, decreased iron intake has been linked to very short sleep durations. If your child is eating an omnivorous diet, make sure to include a rich iron source every day. For plant-based and vegetarian children, there are plenty of nutritious plant-based sources of iron, but absorption rates are much lower. More effort and mindfulness is required to make sure your child gets enough iron in his diet.


Now I’m sure this might not come much as a surprise: real nutritious foods support sleep and rest, while highly processed and sugary foods interfere with proper sleep and rest. One large study conducted in New Zealand on 6327 2-year-old children showed that higher consumption of soft drinks/snacks/fast foods is associated with shorter, more disrupted sleep. Aside from the fact that it has a dramatic effect on blood sugar levels, these foods highly ranked on the glycemic index scale cause cortisol, the stress hormone, levels to rise. This has a negative impact on your child’s sleep patterns and circadian rhythm.

Last but not least, avoid caffeine-rich foods, especially during the second part of the day. Caffeine is not only a substance used in adult drinks, it’s present in chocolate, (some) granola bars and cookies, green tea, (some) chewing gum, (some) ice-cream, etc.


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