Recipes for better sleep can start with what you eat – or don’t eat – for dinner.

Good Sleep = Good Health
Adults know our productivity, long-term and short-term health and appearance are linked to a solid night’s sleep. It’s the same for children. They release hormones important for growth, strengthen the immune system, process everything learned during the day, and are prepared for tomorrow. To paraphrase Shakespeare….

…sleep is nature’s nurse…

…and Nurse Nature supports us with good nutrition. The list of “nos” is fairly short:
– Caffeine
– Foods that are difficult to digest such as fatty, spicy,
– Sugar

Avoid the inevitable sugar crash
Adults know that alcohol before bed not only adds unnecessary calories but triggers the blood sugar spike-crash-cravings cycle which can wake you up in the middle of the night. Sugary desserts at dinner will do the same in children.

One big “No!”
This is serious – children should not take drugs or any medication that induces sleep. Children’s nervous systems, brains, and bodies are developing in addition to the fact that we should encourage natural, mindful practices that nurture the whole child.

Timing is key
Just as SpongeBob isn’t the healthiest late afternoon babysitter, anything that falls into the categories on the list above should be eaten before 2 PM. Dinner should be eaten 3 hours before bedtime allowing time for healthy digestion. Liquids drunk right before bedtime could contribute to waking up to go to the bathroom – you know your family best.

Know the “nos” and go straight to “yes!”
It’s simple to enhance the family dinner with healthy sleep-supportive eating.

Tryptophan is an amino acid which converts to serotonin and melatonin. Seratonin is nicknamed “the happiness hormone”. Melatonin is produced in the pineal gland and is key to regulating your body’s natural clock. Tryptophan has other benefits to include regulating mood – people are actually kinder when there is a balanced intake of tryptophan. Calcium and magnesium are other nutrients that play important parts in the tryptophan, melatonin, serotonin symphony.

Instead of cakes, cookies, or ice cream for the dinner dessert, complex carbohydrates can satisfy the family sweet tooth and increase relaxation hormones. Mixing tryptophan-rich foods with complex carbohydrates can double your nutritional support for sleep…and waking time.

Good habits last a lifetime
You could investigate supplements for children, but why not start nurturing good eating habits in tandem with good sleep habits? Going for a quick-fix pill isn’t the best thing to model, let alone encourage children to do. This week, set the intention of replacing just one dinner-time “no” with a dinner-time “yes”. Invite your children to help, getting a little inspiration from the Eric Carle book Today is Monday – each day of the week becomes a day for that special food.

You could keep the green beans for Mondays with a bean dip (complex carbs) that includes a nut butter such as tahini (tryptophan and calcium) for example.

And to begin your culinary journey to sleep, here is a link to Smitten Kitchen’s version of a clementine cake that our family loves for dessert or even breakfast. Lots of sleep supportive ingredients, gluten free, and I substitute agave nectar for sugar which makes it creamier. (Don’t ask me how much, I do it intuitively and it always works out!)

What do you think you’ll cook this week? Can children help? Please post below. And if you found this post helpful, please share it.

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