Toddler nutrition and how it affects their sleep plus foods that produce sleep hormones.

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Have you ever considered your toddler’s nutrition and the role it can play in affecting their sleep? Let’s take a look at how nutrition can positively impact a toddler’s sleep routine as well as examine ‘sleepy foods’ high in nutrients.

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    For most toddlers, food makes their world go round. Whenever there’s food around you can guarantee they want a piece of the action.

    It’s wonderful to see their enthusiasm and appetite for food and we want to ensure toddlers continue to receive all the nutrients they require, including those that promote sleep.

    Broken and restlessness in sleep can often be linked to diet including food allergies or intolerances which means your toddler’s overall diet can negatively impact their sleep.

    So which nutrients can be included to support sleep in toddlers?

    There are several vitamins, minerals and nutrients you can incorporate into your toddler’s diet to support not only a healthy diet but also their sleep.

    What foods produce sleep hormones?

    Food rich in amino acid Tryptophan as well as B Vitamins assist the body in producing the sleepy hormones Serotonin and Melatonin.

    Foods that produce sleep hormones Serotonin and Melatonin include:

    • Poultry
    • Natural nuts
    • Bananas
    • Kidney beans
    • Eggs
    • Dairy products

    If your toddler is waking through the night, it may be worth checking their protein consumption across the day.

    Protein is broken down slowly, which helps to maintain blood sugar levels. Low blood sugar levels trigger the production of adrenalin in the body and in turn over stimulate your little one causing them to wake during the night.

    Expert Tip: If you’ve noticed a sudden onset of night waking, it might be due to your toddler being ready to drop their final nap. This is common between the age of 2.5 -3.5 years however every toddler is individual. Check out the 5 common signs it’s time to drop the final nap here.

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    Top 4 Minerals to include in your child’s diet to promote sleep:

    1. Iron
    2. Zinc
    3. Magnesium
    4. Calcium

    Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of these important minerals.


    Iron is important for optimal growth and development, but also to support sleep.

    Did you know the RDI (recommended daily intake) for iron from 7-12 months is 11mg/day (the RDI for a grown male is 8mg/day). This is because children experience their most rapid growth and development in the first 2 years!

    Iron is also responsible for transporting oxygen around the body and if there’s a deficit in iron, we risk becoming anaemic.

    • Tiredness
    • Irritability
    • Low energy
    • Dark circles under their eyes
    • Pale skin

    All of these can naturally impact sleep.

    What are good sources of protein for toddlers?

    • Meat – Chicken, red meat, liver (once a week) and turkey mince
    • Eggs – Scrambled, French toast, baked, frittatas, muffins
    • Fish – Sardine, salmon, snapper, whiting, herring, mackerel, mullet or garfish
    • Plant sources – Tofu, lentils, chia seeds, beans, hemp seeds, nut butters, seed butters
    • Rice fortified cereals

    Note: Vitamin C can enhance iron absorption, and on the flip side, Calcium and Phytates can inhibit iron absorption.


    Zinc acts as a natural antidepressant, reduces inflammation (which can impact on mood and brain health) and helps balance hormone levels that contribute to moodiness.

    Good sources of zinc include:

    • Seafood
    • Lean beef & lamb
    • Spinach
    • Pumpkin seeds
    • Sunflower seeds
    • Sesame seeds (or tahini)
    • Cashews
    • Beans


    Magnesium is great for relaxing your toddler’s active muscles. We all know toddler’s never stop with all that playing, walking, running and exploring.

    Good sources of magnesium include:

    • Leafy green vegetables
    • Nuts and seeds
    • Beans and lentils
    • Brown rice
    • Quinoa
    • Avocado
    • Bananas
    • Dairy products


    Dairy foods (milk, cheese or yoghurt) are the most important sources of calcium after 12 months of age.

    I recommend offering dairy foods (milk, cheese or yoghurt) 2-3 times a day.

    Good sources of calcium include:

    • Dairy products
    • Tinned salmon or sardines (leave the bones in)
    • Leafy green vegetables
    • Tofu
    • Broccoli
    • Almonds

    If you notice your toddler’s tummy isn’t agreeing with something they’re eating, keep a food diary for at least 10 days to try and pinpoint what the issue is. A tummy that’s relaxed and not giving your little one trouble will promote a better night of consolidated sleep.

    This being said, it’s important to consult with your trusted healthcare professional (I recommend a Paediatric Dietician, the specialist in this area of nutrition) before eliminating or reducing any foods.

    Eliminating foods without professional advice can cause deficiencies, which can lead to further sleep concerns as well as impact a toddler’s ability to reach physiological and psychological milestones.

    As parents we can stress about what our toddlers are (or aren’t eating). You might have a fussy eater or a child who eats everything. Whichever category your little one falls into, this blog has lots of ideas to help you provide a large variety of the nutrient rich foods they need.

    Looking for guidance with your toddler’s sleep? Check out my blog Toddler Sleep Tips - helping you create a positive bedtime experience for you and your toddler.

    To improve the toddler bedtime battles, you can help your toddler understand bedtime expectations with their very own bedtime routine chart. This printable download allows you to create a bedtime routine chart with your toddler. Decorate it with glitter, stickers or anything your little one loves. Download it here.


    Kelly Martin Sleep Consultant

    Helping babies get a good nights sleep

    Our mission is to empower parents with the knowledge and education about how they can help their little one develop and maintain healthy sleep habits. Are you ready to regain your sleep?

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