If a child is not receiving adequate nutrition during the day, then it is common to experience catnapping, resistance at sleep times, frequent night waking and persistent crying due to an unfulfilled primary need (hunger). Frequent water intake and snacks throughout the day can also help to prevent behavioural difficulties in toddlers (due to low blood sugar and/or dehydration) ‒ which can result in bedtime challenges.
In the early months, many parents struggle to know if their baby has fed substantially. tight, clenched fists and a sunken fontanelle can be an indication that an infant is hungry and/or dehydrated. If your baby is crying from hunger prior to falling asleep, their fists will remain clenched long after they fall asleep, whereas a satisfied baby may still clench their fists whilst crying, but once asleep, their hands will soften and palms will open.
Feeding alone won’t prevent a child from waking overnight, and it is important that other areas such as sleeping environment, routine and emotional well-being are not overlooked. Prior to dropping feeds, or night weaning, your child’s readiness – such as age, and their daily nutritional intake must be considered.
Growth spurts (commonly at three, six, and nine months), developmental milestones, varying activity levels, illness and teething can influence appetite, nutritional needs and sleeping ability. Similarly, if your child is underweight or was born prematurely, they may have additional requirements for daytime and/or overnight feeds in the first 12 months and beyond.
There are various foods which can promote sleep, and a host of foods (and food ingredients) which can wreak havoc on sleep, behaviour and allergies.
Below is a list of the most common pro-sleep and anti-sleep foods. You don’t have to avoid everything on the anti-sleep list, however, it may be a good idea to steer clear of these foods in the hours leading up to bedtime ‒ especially for the more sensitive types or children with allergies and food intolerances.


  • Dairy, almonds, sesame seeds, leafy greens, oranges and sardines: Contain calcium which works to calm the nervous system and can help toddlers fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • Beets, pork, poultry and peanuts: Foods high in B3 (Niacin) ­can extend REM cycle and reduce middle of the night waking.
  • Oily fish such as salmon and tuna, avocado, nuts, seeds and cold pressed vegetable oils: are rich in Omega essential fatty acids which can enhance your brain’s secretion of melatonin (sleep hormone).
  • Seeds, nuts and green vegetables: Contain magnesium which relaxes the muscles and calms the nervous system to encourage a sleepy state.
  • Grass-fed meat, leafy greens, and legumes: Contain ferritin which is responsible for storing iron in the body. Low iron, or specifically ferritin, may result in a weakened immune system, disturbed sleep, difficulty linking sleep cycles, and in extreme cases – sleep disorders. Best sources are liver, poultry, red meat and seafood. Vegetarian sources include soybeans, lentils, lima beans, kidney beans, navy beans, peas, spinach and molasses and fortified breakfast cereals.
  • Grass-fed meats, fish, poultry eggs, legumes, peanut butter, tofu and dairy: These foods are high in protein which assists in stabilising blood sugar- keeping babies and children fuller for longer, and hence sleeping longer. These foods are most beneficial to sleep when consumed in combination with carbohydrates and healthy fats such as avocado, and cold pressed oils such as coconut and flax.
  • Honey: Contains glucose, which tells your brain to shut off orexin ‒ the chemical known to trigger alertness. Some children are sensitive to sugar, so this can also be one to potentially avoid. Honey is not recommended until at least 12 months of age.
  • Cherries: Are a natural source of melatonin (sleep hormone). When eaten regularly, they can help regulate the sleep cycle.
  • Almonds, turkey, hummus and milk: Contain tryptophan, which is metabolised into serotonin and melatonin, two of the main chemicals responsible for sleep.
  • Oatmeal, wholegrain or wholemeal bread, rice, pasta and crackers: Foods that are high in carbohydrates boost serotonin and increase tryptophan absorption ‒ both essential chemicals for sleep.
  • Bananas: The magnesium and potassium in bananas serve as muscle and nerve relaxants. The carbohydrates and vitamin B6 found in the fruit also converts tryptophan into serotonin, increasing relaxation even more.


  • Chocolate: Contains tyrosine, which is converted into dopamine ‒ a stimulant. This causes alertness and restlessness. Chocolate also contains caffeine and is high in sugar; enough said.
  • Salt: Excess salt in processed foods, cheeses and snacks can make little ones extra thirsty before bed and overnight, interfering with sleep.
  • Popcorn, red meat, beans and legumes: Can be difficult for the digestive system to cope with before sleep and may cause bloating and gas.
  • Processed sugars: Sugar can cause a fluctuation of blood sugar levels.Immediately after eating a sugary snack, blood sugar levels increase. A short while later, they will fall significantly. In order to try to restabilise blood sugar levels, the body will later force the adrenal glands to release adrenaline (stress hormone), which can cause toddlers to awaken once they have already fallen asleep. Some children are also sensitive to the natural sugars in fruit, so it is sometimes best to avoid before bed.
  • Spicy or fried foods: Can cause heartburn, which can be exacerbated when lying down. They may also cause stomach discomfort (gas, bloating and cramps)
  • Processed meats, soy products and some hard cheeses: Contain high levels of tyramine, which causes the brain to release a chemical that makes us feel alert. Fermented soy products have some of the highest amount of tyramine. Limit your child’s intake of miso, tempeh, tofu, soy milk and even teriyaki sauce. Parmesan, Romano and Asiago are among the cheeses to avoid.
  • Tomatoes and tomato-based sauces: Tomato-based foods have a tendency to cause acid reflux and heartburn.


* Dairy, wheat, soy, corn, eggs, chocolate and nuts: are common foods for intolerances and allergies
* Ensure your toddler remains hydrated (water) during the day; this can help keep blood sugar levels more stable, hence minimising tantrums and behavioural issues

  • There are also numerous additives, preservatives, and chemicals which are hidden in our kids’ packaged snacks, and everyday foods such as bread, milk, cheese, and sauces; which can have adverse affects on behaviour, sleep, and little immune systems. You can check out The Food Intolerance Network or Little stomaks for a list of ingredients to avoid when buying pre-packaged foods.
  • Refer to some simple and nutritious DIY baby food recipes here for when your child begins to displays signs of readiness.
  • For 45 of the best baby foods, click here

If you have any concerns around your child’s diet, possible allergies or intolerances; please consult you healthcare professional

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