We may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post.
Foods that help sleep disclaimer: Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health practitioner about sleep related difficulties, changes in diet or use of supplements.
Sleep difficulties are common
89% of parents report sleep troubles for their children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, Development Disabilities and/or Intellectual Disabilities.
Due to the high percentage of parent reports, it seems safe to say that most children with a developmental disability have some kind of trouble with sleep. Most noteworthy is that even with such a high prevalence of sleep problems, many professionals don’t offer much help to special needs families.
It is possible to achieve better sleep, using a combination of structured interventions.
How do I know? I’m a mom of a special needs child whose family struggled with sleep for YEARS until we found the right combination of interventions that helped.
Foods can help support sleep
Certainly today, we see more and more evidence that says lack of sleep can impact gut health. Foods we eat can play a key role in the way we feel, behave and sleep.
Here are foods that contain key vitamins and minerals that support sleep:
- Magnesium is a mineral that functions to relax nerves and muscles. Insomnia and restless leg syndrome are both connected to having a magnesium deficiency. Here are sleep-friendly food that contain magnesium:
- Fruits: avocados, bananas, berries and melons
- Leafy greens: broccoli, spinach and Swiss chard
- Nuts and seeds: almonds, cashews, sunflower and pumpkin seeds (or nut/seed butters)
- Beans: black beans, soybeans, tofu
- Whole grains: brown rice, millet, oat bran and wheat
- Potassium is a mineral that helps to relax muscles and nerves. It also promotes healthy circulation and digestion. A study from the University of Wisconsin shows a possible link between potassium and slow-wave sleep. Here are some foods with potassium:
- Fruits: Bananas
- Vegetables: leafy greens, mushrooms, tomatoes and cauliflower
- Beans: including lima, soybeans, lentils, pinto and kidney beans
- Fish: salmon, cod, and flounder
- Citrus: especially in juice form, in sources like orange juice
- Calcium is a natural relaxant, like magnesium and potassium (Did your mom ever tell you to drink warm milk to help you fall asleep?) It also plays a key role in the production of melatonin, also known as the “sleep hormone.”
- Melatonin levels rise naturally during the night, helping promote sleep, and are suppressed during the day, allowing us to be alert and awake. Dairy products are rich in calcium, and can be a good choice for a sleep-friendly evening snack.
- Non-dairy sources of Calcium. If you’re dairy-free, try these options for bringing more sleep-promoting calcium into your diet:
- Fruits: Oranges, Figs
- Vegetables: broccoli, carrots, turnip greens, collards, spinach, mustard greens, kale, green beans, sweet potatoes, butternut squash
- Nuts and seeds: Brazil nuts, almonds, sesame seeds
- Soy: tofu, soymilk, edamame
- Natural Melatonin in Cherries. Although melatonin supplements are readily available, they don’t work the same as naturally produced melatonin does. Cherries, however, are a potent source of natural melatonin as noted in a study by Texas Tech University Health Science Center. Cherries are readily available year-round in dried, frozen, fresh or juice form.
A note about food sensitivities. Just as there are foods that help support sleep, food intolerances that many special needs children experience are can impact behaviors, mood and sleep for up to 72 hours after an offending food has been consumed. Use our free Food & Mood Tracker to help determine whether an underlying food sensitivity might be causing a sleep disturbance.
FREE DOWNLOAD! Food & Mood Tracker
Join Tumble into Love
Are you a parent who has a child with special needs? Want more information and resources to support your lifestyle? Join our exclusive FB group: TIL’s Parent Connection