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Disclaimer: Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health practitioner about sleep related difficulties, changes in diet or use of supplements.
The prevalence of parent-reported sleep difficulties for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, Development Disabilities and/or Intellectual Disabilities can be as high as 89%.
Although difficult to precisely measure due to age, nature of a child’s disability and type of sleep disturbance reported, it seems that it’s safe to say that most children with a developmental disability have some kind of disturbance with sleep.
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 that support sleep
There’s mounting evidence that sleep or lack thereof may 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. 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.
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 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.
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