Sleep like a baby (depending on the baby)!
During Nutrifit, our six-week optimum nutrition programme, we dedicate a whole week to learning more about stress and sleep. Both have such a major influence on our health, so itís essential that we get to grips with them. The problem is, that once you understand what happens to your body when you are stressed or sleep-deprived, itís then very easy to get stressed about being stressed. And then if that then stops you sleeping, itís a disaster!
The trick of course, is to view yourself as a work in progress. Usually, taking some small steps for the better helps to put your mind at rest. Youíre addressing it. Things are improving. Life is good!
The one area I do find tricky, though, is helping new parents get more sleep. Itís all very well to recommend seven to eight hoursí sleep a night, consistently. But what if you have a newborn? Or a not-so-newborn that just didnít get the memo?! That whole phrase ďsleeping like a babyĒ, well, it depends on the baby!
At 9 and 11, my kids still make occasional appearances in the middle of the night. At this age, itís much less of a drama. I just throw back the covers and let them in. When they were smaller, they turned into these little tiny sleep assassins, doing gymnastics and radiating an insane amount of body heat. No matter how big the bed, I would end up with a toddler in my armpit, usually upside down with their feet up my nose.
So, while I want you to get a good nightís sleep, letís start with getting the kids to sleep first. All jokes aside, mine are now generally great sleepers and itís made such a difference to daily life. Waking up actually feeling refreshed is amazing!
As a nutritionist, I get asked about sleep a lot. Not because itís the whole picture, but because it can be an important piece of the puzzle. Over the years, both professionally and as a mum, I have found a few things that can make a big difference. Here are my tips:
Avoid sugar before bedtime
Youíll probably know if your child is sugar-sensitive. I have one that remains immune, but one that bounces off the walls when she eats sweet things (or has Red 40, God forbid). If you are offering dessert after dinner or sugary cereals before bed, try rethinking it. On birthdays or special events we often do ďbackwards dinnerĒ where we have the cake (or whatever it is) when they come in from school. Then we just have regular dinner later and thereís enough time for the madness to wear off.
Consider a healthy bedtime snack
ďBut Iím hungry!Ē ... the ultimate bedtime delayer because itís so hard to send a hungry kid to bed, especially if they did eat their dinner. Tip: make it boring or at least not exciting (so they only ask for it if they are genuinely hungry) and choose a complex (slow-releasing) carb or something protein rich. Ideas include oatmeal with vanilla, cinnamon (and maybe a few raisins but skip the honey or maple syrup), wholegrain bread and butter or a slice of ham or turkey.
Watch out for caffeine too
Iím pretty confident youíre not reaching for the Red Bull or whipping up a latte for your toddler. Just remember that dark chocolate contains caffeine too, albeit less than a regular cup of coffee even for a large portion. I gave the girls strawberries with home-made dark chocolate sauce after dinner the other day and they took for ever to settle down. So, if you have dark chocolate as a healthier option at home, just keep the caffeine content in mind. Note that Coke, Sunkist and Cream Soda all contain caffeine, as do some Propel and Vitamin Waters.
Balance blood sugar through the day
In my experience, kids with better balanced blood sugar, in general, sleep better at night. Try keeping blood sugar on an even keel by avoiding refined/processed carbs and sticking to whole foods that are high in fibre. Where you can, include some natural protein at snack time and with meals, eg add nut butter to apple slices or have hummus with veggie sticks. Serve chicken with pasta or scrambled eggs on wholegrain toast (donít forget the veg)!
Consider food allergies or sensitivities
Many of us think that food reactions are limited to breathing difficulties, digestive issues or a skin rash. However, reactions can also include behavioural and sleep disturbances. If your child has unexplained sleep issues, consider raising the possibility of food sensitivity with their doctor ó especially if the problem occurs in conjunction with slowed thought processing, irritability, agitation, aggressive behaviour, nervousness, anxiety, depression, ADHD or hyperactivity.
Get enough calcium, but enough magnesium too
Weíre all very focused on calcium with good reason ó itís essential for growth and development. But when kids have a high dairy intake ó and especially if they donít like their greens ó they might be low in magnesium, an essential mineral that helps children calm down and sleep well. Dietary sources of magnesium include pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, spinach, quinoa, black beans, broccoli, cashews, oats, tuna and raspberries. Supplementation can be discussed with your paediatrician or a fully qualified nutritionist.
ē Catherine Burns is a qualified nutritional therapist. For more details: www.natural.bm, 236-7511 or Natural Nutrition Bermuda on Facebook
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