As a parent, it’ll be no surprise to learn that what your children eat can affect their mood and behaviour, as well as how well they sleep. Getting a good night’s sleep is vital for your child’s growth and development, not to mention the short-term impact on their wellbeing. And as any parent of young children can tell you, disrupted sleep affects the rest of the family too! Healthy bedtime snacks to help kids sleep better can be a small, easy change you can introduce to improve your child’s sleep.
Although it is completely normal for young children to wake at night sometimes, we want to promote good quality (uninterrupted) sleep as much as we can to help them feel alert and ready to play and learn during the day. Including a healthy snack as part of your child’s bedtime routine can give them important nutrients that contribute to relaxation and sleep.
So what are the best foods to give your child in the evening to help them sleep better? Let’s start by looking at what our bodies need for good sleep.
Nutrients for Sleep-what to look for in healthy snacks to help kids sleep better.
We need a number of nutrients to help us fall asleep and stay asleep. These include:
- Vitamin B6
- Omega 3 fatty acids
These nutrients help your body make important sleep hormones. They also help you to relax. Let’s look at each of these in more detail….
Tryptophan and Melatonin
Your body uses an amino acid called tryptophan to make serotonin, which is in turn used to create melatonin. Melatonin is an important hormone for sleep. It controls your sleep/wake cycles. This is what makes you feel sleepy and relaxed at bedtime and overnight.
Some foods are naturally high in melatonin itself, such as:
- grains: wheat, barley and oats
- fruits: grapes, tart cherries and strawberries
- vegetables: tomatoes, peppers and mushrooms
- legumes: beans and pulses
- seeds (especially sprouted seeds) and nuts
In addition, several studies have shown that including more tryptophan in your diet increases melatonin in the body, which leads to better sleep. Tryptophan is a protein and is found in many protein-rich foods. So, just by ensuring your child eats plenty of protein, they’ll be getting tryptophan in their diet. If you really want to boost their intake, spirulina, soya, spinach, seafood, egg whites and poultry are all particularly good sources of tryptophan for a healthy bedtime snack for kids.
However, you don’t need to eat these foods right before bed to feel the benefits – you just need to make sure you eat enough of them as part of your regular meals. Then, in the evening, eating carbohydrates activates the tryptophan that is already in your body to create the all-important sleep hormone, melatonin.
Other Nutrients to look for
Most people’s main source of calcium is dairy products. If you are dairy-free, you can also get calcium from foods such as tofu, pulses, dried fruit, and fish that have edible bones, such as sardines, or tinned salmon. You can also buy calcium-fortified foods such as plant milks, breakfast cereals, or white bread.
You can get Vitamin B6 in pork, poultry, fish, wholegrains (such as oatmeal, wheat and brown rice), eggs, vegetables, soya beans, peanuts, milk, potatoes and some fortified breakfast cereals.
Magnesium is also important for regulating sleep. Your body needs this mineral in order to relax. It also affects – can you guess – melatonin! You can get magnesium by drinking water (bottled or tap) and eating foods like green vegetables, nuts, cereals, meat, fish and fruit. The way to absorb magnesium, however, is through the skin, so add a cup or 2 of Epsom salts to the bath or spray magnesium oil on little (and big) feet at night.
Omega 3 is another key player for sleep and melatonin production. Studies show that increased Omega 3 intake improves sleep in both adults and children. The best source of Omega 3 is oily fish and seafood. For vegans and vegetarians, try seaweed and algae (including spirulina), nuts, seeds and beans.
The bottom line is, all these nutrients needed for good sleep are found naturally in a healthy, balanced diet containing a balance of protein, wholegrain cereals, dairy or alternatives, nuts, seeds, beans, fruits and vegetables. Eating these foods regularly can help your child fall asleep faster and also give them a better-quality sleep.
Avoid Sugar when selecting healthy snacks to help kids sleep better
We’ve seen that eating carbohydrates activates the other nutrients already in your body, so that you can produce the sleep hormone melatonin. So a carb-based snack can actually be a good option at bedtime. However, the type of carbohydrates you eat matters!
We all know that too much sugar and other refined carbohydrates can cause a whole range of health problems. But did you know it can also mess with your sleep? Sugary snacks eaten before bed have been shown to reduce sleep quality. And what do kids crave when they’re tired? More sugar! This can become a vicious cycle. So avoid cakes, cookies and other sweet treats – especially late in the evening.
For bedtime snacks stick to whole food sources of carbohydrates – such as whole grains, vegetables (including starchy veg like potatoes and sweet potatoes), fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Healthy Bedtime Snacks for Kids
A balanced diet during the day will give your child the building blocks their body needs to make important hormones for better sleep. Combining this with a carbohydrate-based snack at bedtime will kick-start these hormones and help them to relax at the end of the day. Why not try the following healthy bedtime snacks to help your kids sleep better?
- Homemade smoothie or milkshake containing banana, along with added sleep-benefiting ingredients such as oats, nuts, cow’s milk or plant milk, or even spinach. How about this Healthy Thick Chocolate Milkshake?
- Snack bars based around oats or nuts.
- Homemade flapjack with a glass of cow’s milk or plant milk.
- Peanut butter on wholemeal toast.
- Apple slices with almond butter.
- Wholegrain crackers with cheese or houmous.
- Wholegrain muffins – like our Spelt, Pumpkin Seed, Apple and Carrot Muffins
- Turkey sandwich.
- Banana-based dessert such as this Healthy Chocolate Ice Cream Mousse
So, instead of wishing for some magic sleepy dust, try giving your child a healthy bedtime snack to help them sleep better. This will ensure they have all the nutrients their body needs to promote a good night’s sleep, and prevents night time wakeups due to hunger. For the best effect, give your child their bedtime snack about an hour before they go to bed – this is just the right time for it to kick in and work its magic.
If you don’t have the time to prep, our Treat Trunk subscription boxes will give you a whole range of nutrient-dense, healthy snacks, delivered to your door every month, including the nourishment your child needs for a good night’s sleep. Get a Trunk here