Different types of foods affect the body in different ways. Some types of food create chemicals in the brain which promote calmness and sleepiness, and these foods contain a substance called tryptophan. Tryptophan produces a brain chemical called serotonin from which melatonin is formed, and that’s a sleep-well hormone. Types of food that contain tryptophan include:

Poultry, particularly turkey
Dairy products like cheese, particularly gruyere and cheddar
Green leafy vegetables
Soya products

But it’s not as simple as that… Very often your body needs to have foods in combination with other foods in order to absorb them. In order for your child to feel sleepy they need to have some tryptophan combined with some carbohydrates, which cause a release of insulin, which helps the tryptophan reach the brain and cause sleepiness.

Good examples of combinations are turkey pie with potato topping, or pasta with cheddar cheese; egg sandwiches with wholemeal bread, or a warm milky drink with an oatmeal biscuit.

In order for your child to feel sleepy they need tryptophan combined with carbohydrates, which causes a release of insulin. This helps the tryptophan reach the brain and causes sleepiness.

A lot of people think if they give their child a meal just before bed it will help them sleep – actually it doesn’t work. If they have a big meal before bed then their metabolic rate and body temperature increases instead of decreasing which makes it harder for them to go to sleep. I would suggest if they have a meal one-and-a-half to two hours prior to bed-time, that’s probably the best thing to do.

Introduce new foods at lunchtime in case they cause upset and a disturbed night. Things like baby massage also promotes sleep, as does a warm bath, and a bed-time routine. Another tip is to make sure baby is still awake when you put them down in their bed; that’s because when they wake up in the night you want them to fall asleep again without looking for you to help them.

When it comes to babies, I think it’s important for parents to remember that their tummies are too small to take enough milk to last them through the night, so they need to wake up to feed. You can’t force a very young baby to sleep through the night. That happens a little bit later on, hopefully around six months, unless you are extremely lucky…

Annabel Karmel has written 40 books, which have sold over four million copies worldwide, covering every stage of a child’s development. She has three children and lives in London.

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