Establishing sleep patterns is very important for the neurological and behavioral development of a child. Physical, cerebral, and cognitive growth occurs at an extraordinary rate during early development, and sleep plays a particularly crucial role at this stage.
But regulating an infant’s sleep behavior can be a headache for parents.
It is particularly difficult to coordinate the baby’s sleeping hours with feeding, to synchronize the baby’s sleep patterns with daytime and nighttime hours, to distinguish phases of awakening, and to get parents to sleep at the same time.
A variety of factors impact the quality of sleep in infants, including genetics, general health and well-being, the environment, and nutrition. Furthermore, both the type of nutrients consumed and the time at which they are consumed influence infant sleep.
Surely, proper sleep is a fundamental factor in the healthy development of babies, but about 35 percent of children have sleep problems during the first three years of life, which can persist into adolescence and adulthood. Therefore, optimal infant sleep is desirable.
A group of researchers from the United States, Switzerland, and Spain carried out a study titled “Diet and Nutrients in the Modulation of Infant Sleep: A Review of the Literature” that focused on exploring the link between nutrition and infant sleep.
The researchers performed an exploratory search of applicable literature in different internet databases, using search terms like infants, sleep, nutrition, breastfeeding, formula feeding, diet, food intake, and combinations thereof. They had no specific criteria of exclusion or inclusion, although publications in English were preferred.
What Did They Find?
Large inter-individual differences due to environmental, biological, and parental factors have been reported.
A number of studies compared sleep outcomes either between breastfed and formula-fed infants or between different formulas with and without specific nutritional enrichments. They reported a significant difference in sleep outcomes, suggesting that the nutritional composition of foods as well as the mode and pattern of consumption influence sleep.
Also, the specific composition of breast milk appears to affect sleep and sleep/wake cycles. When breast milk composition changes, it affects the levels of certain nutrients in the breast milk. These changes naturally occur whenever sleep patterns are modified, which further demonstrates a connection between nutrition and sleep.
However, little is known about the impact of specific nutrients and the timing of consumption. Some nutrients, such as tryptophan and nucleotides, seem to affect brain activity during sleep, and others, like fatty acids, may affect sleep as a result of their role in the development of the central nervous system.
Nutritional intervention may be a promising alternative or complementary strategy to support infant sleep. However, more research, especially in healthy infants, is needed to better understand how diet, nutrients, and their mechanisms of action modulate infant sleep.
Some possible practical applications of the existing research include nutritional strategies that support infant sleep, such as using nighttime formulas or bedtime foods that contain sleep-promoting nutrients like tryptophan and nucleotides.
If a child struggles with sleep disturbances, it is essential to go to the doctor’s office for a complete evaluation. The doctor will determine if some nutritional changes can help or if some other intervention is necessary.
Schneider, Nora, Gisella Mutungi, and Javier Cubero. “Diet and Nutrients in the Modulation of Infant Sleep: A Review of the Literature.” Nutritional Neuroscience 21, no. 3 (2018): 151–161. Retrieved from: https://www.tandfonline.com