08 March 2012

Improving your child’s sleep habits and digestion

By Natan Gendelman D.O.M.P | enabledkids.ca | healthinmotionrehab.com

Working with children, I often get questions from parents who wish to find a solution to their child’s sleeping issues and digestion problems. It’s important to realize that as a whole, your child’s biological rhythm is what determines how well these two go hand in hand. When a child’s lifestyle works against this natural rhythm, his body is thrown out of sync and issues such as indigestion, restlessness, problems sleeping and lethargy begin affecting his ability to function. By examining your child’s lifestyle and identifying any problem areas, you are taking the first step towards improving your child’s sleeping habits, eating habits, and their influence on what he will be able to learn and accomplish.

In today’s fast-paced society, many of our families have become accustomed to following a rushed lifestyle. Since we’re on the run, we have tea or coffee with close to no breakfast, a light lunch, and then we indulge in a full course dinner accompanied by dessert. Following this eating pattern, we go to sleep and wonder why we do not feel as energized or refreshed as we should be when morning arrives. When it comes to a child, the negative effects of this cycle become even more pronounced as he undergoes key stages of growth and development during this crucial period.

The reason for this is because our biological rhythm, also known as our circadian rhythm, experiences a peak of activity in the morning as the body prepares itself for a new day. Wholesome, solid foods should therefore be consumed early on so as to provide the body with the fuel it needs to function. As the day passes and evening arrives however, the body’s metabolic exchange slows down and begins preparing for sleep. In essence, our habit of eating a large dinner and dessert goes against this natural turn of events, causing our system to work throughout the night rather than rest during this crucial period meant for healing and growth.

Throughout my life, I have always remembered this saying: it is best to eat breakfast as a king, lunch as a prince, and dinner as a pauper. The largest meal of the day should be eaten in the morning, while the lightest meal should happen 4 to 5 hours before bedtime. This ensures that your food consumption will match the rate at which your digestive system functions.

Depending on where you live, your nutritional needs and what foods are locally available, examples of what you should and should not feed your child for dinner may vary from the things we have included below. However, what’s’ important is that the foods you prepare are easy to digest, light and nutritious while still fulfilling any dietary needs.

Some foods to consider

Salad made with seasonal vegetables. Salads without protein or starch are light and easy for a child to digest.

Bread and honey. Honey is known for its calming properties and is great for helping a child sleep. Honey can be eaten alongside dinner, as a spoonful before bed or mixed in with some warm chamomile tea. One thing to be aware of, however, is that pasteurized honey (the kind that stays clear for a long time) has less nutrients than raw honey (the kind that gets cloudy and turns solid after approximately two months) as it has been heated to remove bacteria and extend its shelf life.

Foods to avoid

Red meat and high-protein foods. When having dinner, try to avoid giving your child a lot of heavy foods that are rich in protein. These items are best consumed earlier in the day to help your child feel awake and ready to learn or play. Red meat, for example, takes a lot of work to digest in comparison to fresh fruits and vegetables. It can also inhibit the synthesis of seratonin, which may prevent your child from getting a good night’s sleep.

Potatoes and heavy starchy foods. If your child experiences digestion problems and trouble sleeping, starchy foods such as potatoes and pasta may not be a good idea. While eating a lot of carbohydrates may make your child feel sleepy, they can also cause bloating and gas for his sensitive stomach, and disturb his sleeping habits.

There are many sources out there suggesting a wide range of different foods that can help your child digest and sleep at night. However, make sure to proceed with caution as many of the foods in these guides can trigger allergies or food intolerances. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, leave a comment down below!

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Before making any lifestyle changes for your child, be sure to consult a health practitioner who is familiar with your child’s condition. Please note that if your child has pollen allergies or is under the age of one year, you should not give him raw honey as it may cause a severe allergic reaction or lead to infant botulism.


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