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Food, does it influence your little one’s sleep?

The short answer is yes, but not in the way you may think. There are a number of factors that influence sleep and of course, food is one of them. Parents often think that starting solids will help their little one to sleep through the night. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Starting solids is a huge change for your baby, so they do need time to adjust.

Food is made up of different nutrients and these can all play a role in helping with sleep. The key is to offer a variety of foods across the day so that your baby gets a range of these nutrients. Having a large amount of one single nutrient will not magically make them sleep!

The following outlines how different nutrients within food can impact sleep:

Low blood sugar levels will cause adrenaline and subsequently cortisol (stress hormones) to be released overnight, which can cause sleep disturbances. To combat this, ensure you offer complex carbohydrates at each meal. Examples of these include sweet potato, legumes, lentils, pasta.

Iron-deficient infants have been shown to have more frequent night waking (1). Making sure that your baby is getting iron-rich foods from 6 months onward is crucial to reduce their risk of iron deficiency. Iron-rich foods include beef, chicken, lamb, fish, eggs, green vegetables, beans and legumes.

Zinc acts as sleep modulator and helps to regulate sleep, increasing the amount and quality that we get (2). Ensure that a variety of zinc-containing foods are offered including meat, liver, eggs and seafood.

Omega-fatty acids which are found in a variety of fish as well as flax and chia seeds have been shown to help with sleep. Low levels of DHA (a component of omega-3’s) are associated with sleep problems in children and also linked to lower levels of melatonin, which helps with falling asleep (3,4).

Serotonin and melatonin are sleep inducing hormones. Tryptophan is an amino acid which is essential for building the serotonin and melatonin molecules and specifically influences sleep processes in the brain. Foods high in tryptophan include turkey, chicken, nuts, kidney beans, oats, eggs, and dairy. Milk has high levels of tryptophan, so there is a reason why we give our children milk before they go to sleep!

Protein is the satiating nutrient, i.e., the one that makes you feel the fullest for the longest period of time. Adequate protein during the day will ensure that your baby won't wake overnight. Aim for several serves the size of your baby's palm over the course of the day. Animal protein can cause digestive upsets overnight in babies under 8 months, so aim to give this at lunch and give a plant-based protein (legumes, nut/seed butters) or eggs at dinner time.

Magnesium helps with serotonin synthesis (the hormone mentioned above) and works as a muscle relaxant. Magnesium has been shown to help with increasing sleep quality and sleep duration (5). It can be found in green leafy vegetables, legumes, wholegrains, nuts, and seeds.

At the end of the day, food and sleep go hand-in-hand. Eating a variety of nutritious food helps your child to sleep, while getting good sleep helps your child to eat well during the day. If one of these aspects goes wrong it can create a vicious cycle, so working on both are important as they support each other. Your child’s nutrition, their sleep environment, understanding their sleep cycles and their sleep needs are all key elements which are essential to creating healthy food and sleep habits. If one is impacted, then the others will be affected too!

For more help with sleep, check out the Little Dreamers website - Amy is a Sleep Consultant and has the knowledge on all things sleep!

Amy and I have also co-written an eBook called Little Eaters to educate and support you with the knowledge you need to nourish and nurture your baby in the first few years. The eBook is available for purchase via the Little Dreamers website - click here to grab a copy!


1. Peirano, P. D., Algarín, C. R., Chamorro, R. A., Reyes, S. C., Durán, S. A., Garrido, M. I., & Lozoff, B. (2010). Sleep alterations and iron deficiency anemia in infancy. Sleep medicine, 11(7), 637-642.

2. Cherasse, Y., & Urade, Y. (2017). Dietary Zinc Acts as a Sleep Modulator. International journal of molecular sciences, 18(11), 2334.

3. Yokoi-Shimizu, K., Yanagimoto, K., & Hayamizu, K. (2022). Effect of Docosahexaenoic Acid and Eicosapentaenoic Acid Supplementation on Sleep Quality in Healthy Subjects: A Randomized, Double-Blinded, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Nutrients, 14(19), 4136.

4. Richardson, A. (2015). Omega-3 and sleep: New insights from the DHA Oxford Learning and Behaviour (DOLAB) study [].Lipid Technology, 27(5), 103-106.

5. Zhang, Y., Chen, C., Lu, L., Knutso, K. L., Carnethon, M. R., Fly, A. D., Luo, J., Haas, D. M., Shikany, J. M., & Kane, K. (2022). Association of magnesium intake with sleep duration and sleep quality: findings from the CARDIA study [Report]. SLEEP, 45, 1#+.

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