The Connection Between Proper Nutrition and Better Sleep in Kids
  /   Dr. John Snow

The Connection Between Proper Nutrition and Better Sleep in Kids


Eating a variety of nutritious foods supports a healthy digestive system, mood, attention, and energy levels. But did you know that what your child eats can influence sleep, too?

Sleep is crucial for children right from the start. It lays the groundwork for their physical growth, mental well-being, and cognitive progress. By understanding the link between nutrition and sleep, you can adjust your child's diet to promote improved sleep quality.

So, how does diet affect sleep in kids? 

Let’s dive in. 

How Does Nutrition Impact Children’s Sleep?

Diet, lifestyle, and sleep are interconnected. The choices you make in one area can have a massive impact on another. 

The foods you eat can influence your energy levels, which affects your ability to lead an active lifestyle. Regular physical activity helps regulate hormones and neurotransmitters that influence mood and sleep. Consistent sleep balances hormones that control hunger and support positive mood, attention, and learning

Sleep, diet, and exercise are all important considerations for overall health, whether you’re talking about a toddler or an adult. We all need good sleep, exercise, and a healthy diet. 

The Importance of Balanced Meals

A well-rounded meal for kids should encompass nutrients that are vital for their growth, development, and overall health. Generally, this includes a combination of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats, along with fruits and vegetables.

The importance of balancing children's meals lies in several factors. In considering a nutritious diet, the emphasis begins with three primary macronutrients:

  • Protein is crucial for growth, tissue repair, immune system support, and enzyme function. 
  • Carbohydrates are a source of fiber and energy. Complex carbohydrates are essential for digestive health. 
  • Healthy fats are essential for energy storage, absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, and developing a healthy nervous system. 

It’s pretty easy to tick off carbohydrates (think brown rice or oats), but ideally, it’s helpful to include all three macronutrients every day. 

So, why are these nutrients important for sleep? 

When it comes to diet and sleep, a balanced meal performs two jobs. Firstly, balanced meals regulate blood sugar levels. Stable blood sugar levels help to prevent nighttime awakenings from hunger or a dip in blood sugar, supporting a peaceful night’s sleep. Secondly, a balanced meal helps keep children fuller for longer and provides nutrients that play a role in relaxation. 

Like most things, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to diet and sleep that works for every child. It’s about finding foods that your child likes that support healthy sleep patterns alongside establishing good sleep habits, a bedtime routine, and regular exercise, 

The Role Of Mealtimes

From a young age, many parents establish a routine that will most likely include a sleep schedule and set eating windows. As kids hit school age, regular mealtimes help them develop healthy eating habits and allow them to build their social skills. 

Routine mealtimes are essential for children for several reasons: 

  • Nutrient intake - mealtimes are an opportunity to consume essential nutrients for growth, development, and quality sleep. 
  • Family bonding - create a pleasant atmosphere that encourages bonding and communication. 
  • Stable sugar levels - eating regular meals helps maintain stable blood sugar levels. 
  • Prevent overeating - with suitable portion sizes, mealtimes help to prevent overeating. 
  • Role modeling - parents and caregivers can give children the opportunity to observe healthy eating patterns and habits during mealtimes. 
  • Independence - giving your child the option to participate in mealtimes and decision-making fosters independence and a positive attitude toward food. 

It’s also important to consider what your child is eating and when. Eating fatty or sugary foods close to bed can prevent sleep. Experts recommend against eating a larger meal near bedtime. A pre-bedtime snack can be helpful if your child is often hungry at bedtime. Try to offer a snack high in protein or fiber, like berries or whole grains. 

Specific Foods To Support Better Sleep

Getting quality sleep for children is crucial. By having a diet full of different whole and natural foods, you can tap into various nutrients. A nutritious diet isn’t only essential for health but can support better sleep for growing bodies and minds. Let’s break down some key foods you can add to the dinner plate to help kids sleep. 


Protein plays an essential role in development, growth, and several bodily functions, including sleep. Protein is vital for kids' sleep, providing various benefits:

  • Tryptophan and serotonin - tryptophan is an amino acid in protein foods that plays a role in making serotonin, the neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and mood. 
  • Muscle repair and growth - protein is vital for repairing muscles and tissue. 
  • Immune system - protein supports immune system function that could prevent illnesses that may disrupt sleep. 
  • Hunger regulation - protein-rich foods and snacks can keep kids feeling fuller for longer and prevent nighttime awakenings due to hunger. 

One study found that tryptophan may help improve sleep quality by shortening the number of minutes someone is awake after falling asleep. As an essential amino acid, tryptophan needs to come from foods as the body can’t produce it. You can find it naturally in foods, like: 

  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Almonds 
  • Chicken and turkey 
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils 
  • Oats 
  • Barley 


Carbohydrates support melatonin and serotonin production, two key neurotransmitters regulating sleep and mood. Research shows that carbohydrates also help tryptophan to reach the brain more effectively. 

Keep in mind that the type of carbohydrate you choose is important. Opt for complex carbohydrates as they provide a slower release of energy that won’t cause blood sugar to spike. 

Foods to consider adding to your kid's meals include: 

  • Whole grain bread
  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Oats
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Whole grain pasta
  • Barley
  • Legumes (beans and lentils)
  • Fruits (apples, berries, oranges)
  • Vegetables (broccoli, carrots, Brussels sprouts)


Healthy fats are crucial for overall health but may also promote better quality sleep. Here’s how healthy fats support sleep in children: 

  • Brain development - fat is important for brain development and cognitive function, which may contribute to better sleep.  
  • Reduce inflammation - by reducing inflammation, fats like omega-3 fatty acids may contribute to improved sleep. 
  • Absorption of fat-soluble nutrients - specific vitamins like vitamins A, E, and K are fat-soluble, so they are better absorbed with fat. 
  • Hormone regulation - fats play a role in producing hormones that regulate sleep and mood, supporting healthy sleep patterns. 

Healthy fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids, support cognitive function, reduce inflammation, and support sleep. Sources of omega-3 fatty acids include: 

  • Fatty fish (tuna, salmon, cod) 
  • Flaxseed oil 
  • Walnuts 
  • Chia seeds
  • Hemp seeds
  • Coconut oil 
  • Nut butters 

Looking for ways to add more healthy fats to your child’s diet? Read our guide on healthy fats for toddlers, separating the good, the bad, and the delicious. 


Macronutrients are the nutrients you need in larger amounts (protein, carbohydrates, and fats). Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals you need in smaller quantities.  

Several micronutrients support healthy sleep function and promote relaxation: 

  • Iron - the mineral carries oxygen throughout the body. Iron deficiency can impact sleep quality. Good sources include beans, lentils, and fortified cereals. 
  • Magnesium - a mineral that’s crucial for muscle relaxation, helping children relax before bed and prepare for sleep. Leafy green vegetables and seeds are great sources. 
  • Calcium - plays a role in producing melatonin and muscle relaxation. Try adding leafy greens to dinner. 

Allergies, Sensitivities and Sleep

It’s important to be aware that food allergies and sensitivities can adversely affect sleep in kids. The exact effects can vary massively from one child to another, ranging from mild reactions to severe. 

Here’s how food allergies and sensitivities can impact sleep: 

  • Digestive discomfort - an upset tummy can stop your child from getting to sleep. Physical symptoms like stomach cramps and diarrhea can make it hard for your child to settle down. 
  • Skin itching - some food allergies may manifest with itchy skin, making it hard for your child to relax and get to sleep.
  • Respiratory issues - breathing problems from allergies can interfere with sleep, causing a child to wake up or struggle to get to sleep in the first place. 
  • Nutrient deficiencies - food allergies can lead to a more restricted diet, which in some cases could result in nutrient deficiencies, impacting sleep. 

Other potential symptoms can include: 

  • Nasal - congestion, sinus issues, sneezing, and cold symptoms
  • Breathing - wheezing, coughing, and asthma 
  • Behavioral - difficulty sleeping, tiredness, and restlessness 

If you have any concerns about food allergies or sensitivities in your child, consult your pediatrician or healthcare provider so they can run tests and identify any potential allergens.  

Foods To Avoid For Better Sleep

As much as it’s crucial to include certain nutrients in the diet to promote sleep, avoiding certain foods is a good idea. 

Some foods can be highly stimulating, could potentially cause discomfort, or contain a lot of sugar, which is not ideal for a peaceful night’s sleep. Try to avoid the following foods for better sleep: 

  • Sugary foods and drinks 
  • High-fat foods (especially greasy foods before bed)
  • Processed foods 

One large study found that children who consumed more soft drinks, snacks, and fast foods had a shorter sleep duration with more disrupted sleep. Another study found that children were more likely to sleep the recommended 9-11 hours per night if they reported lower consumption of soft drinks.

Also, consider limiting caffeine consumption in children, especially after midday. You can find caffeine in chocolate and some cookies, granola bars, and ice cream. Make sure to read the ingredients to avoid any caffeine too close to bedtime.  

Proper Nutrition = Better Sleep For Kids

It probably comes as no surprise that processed foods high in sugar are not conducive to a restful night’s sleep. Poor sleep can negatively affect a child’s growth and development, as well as increase the risk of childhood obesity. Limiting sugar and caffeine, particularly before bedtime, and minimizing their overall consumption can be beneficial. 

By creating a predictable eating pattern with set meal times, you can establish healthy eating habits in children from a young age that can support better sleep. 

While it’s important to take a food-first approach to nutrition, a quality kid-specific multivitamin can help you to fill the gaps so even the pickiest of eaters can get all the vitamins and minerals they need. Proper nutrition not only provides key nutrients for growth and overall health but helps set up the body and mind for better sleep. 


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Is Eating Before Bed Bad? | Sleep Foundation 


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