The truth about sleep and brain development in children revealed

Sleep is an essential part of everyone’s routine. Studies have shown that kids who regularly get adequate amounts of sleep have improved attention, behaviour, learning, memory and most importantly, mental and physical health. Most of a baby’s brain development happens during sleep. This is the time when the connections between the left and right hemispheres of their brains are being formed. Brain synapses (a junction between two nerve cells) are formed during sleep. Infant sleep development is a highly dynamic process occurring in parallel to and in interaction with cognitive and physical growth. In the womb babies spend about 95% of their time asleep. Your baby’s brain has been developing since they were in your womb. In the first trimester, nerve connections are built that enable your baby to move around in the womb, while in the second trimester, more nerve connections and brain tissues are formed. In the third trimester, the cerebral cortex (the largest part of the brain responsible for thought, memory, language and awareness) starts to take over from the brain stem, preparing your baby for future learning.

The first five years of a baby’s life are exceptionally important for the development of the brain. This early brain development is essentially the building blocks for your baby’s future learning, health and behaviour. The child learns to crawl, eat, sleep, walk, and talk.

Just like you have to recharge your body and brain after a long day, it’s the same for the baby too. But with all that important stuff and learning going on into their tiny head, they need to recharge more frequently than adults. Baby’s brain stores everything they learn on that day during sleep.

Signs of Lack of Sleep in Children:

You should watch for different symptoms and signs of lack of sleep to check if he/she is suffering from any sleep problem. Snoring, getting up often in the night, sleep walking, not able to sleep, pauses in breathing during sleep, having nightmares, difficulty staying awake during the day and negative effect on their performance in sports and academics are the signs of lack of sleep in children. Your kid might also complain of a headache from lack of sleep and if you observe any of these signs, you might want to see a paediatrician.

Kids with less sleep can suffer from:

  • Crankiness or irritation
  • Mood swings
  • Lack of interest, alertness and motivation
  • Academic struggles
  • Trouble in concentrating
  • Headache from lack of sleep (Yes! this happens in kids too)

There are four vitamins and minerals that are found in food that cure sleep problems- Magnesium, Calcium, Vitamin B6 and Tryptophan, an amino acid that is important for production of serotonin (happy hormone) in the body.

Foods to cure sleep problems:

Eggs: Eggs are loaded with high quality protein and important nutrients like folate, Vitamin A, D, E, choline (excellent for brain development also), iron and calcium. Egg whites help the body prepare for bedtime by producing melatonin that bring on that sleepy feeling. Eggs are also a rich source in the amino acid tryptophan, which helps you sleep better or longer by telling your brain to shut down for the night.

Dairy products: Milk before bed time is certainly a good idea, but apart from milk other dairy products like cottage cheese/ paneer and cheese (especially cheddar cheese) are also packed with tryptophan. Cheddar cheese can have up to 60% more tryptophan than turkey. (What kind of cheese should you buy?)

Chickpeas (chola): Chickpea curry or hummus is high in the amino acid tryptophan, the chemical that can help you fall asleep easily. The versatile beans are also high in folate, which helps regulate sleeping, and vitamin B6 which helps regulate your internal clock of sleep and rise. (Recipe for more nutritious spreads for bread, paratha)

Nuts: Nuts like almonds, walnuts, pistachios and cashews are often considered to be a good food source for sleep. Nuts contain melatonin (sleep hormone) as well as magnesium, vitamin B6, protein and zinc. Magnesium is helpful in promoting sleep because of its ability to reduce inflammation (body heat). It may help reduce the level of stress hormone cortisol, which is known to interrupt sleep. (What nuts are easy protein sources?)

Coconut water: This might be surprising for you, but apart from iron, chloride, potassium, sodium, phosphorus and calcium, coconut water has ingredients that can help you sleep better, such as magnesium and potassium, which helps to relax muscles. This drink is also full of vitamin B, helping to reduce stress level, therefore results in sound sleep. A glass of coconut water as an evening beverage can help in quality sleep. (Recipe of a healthy coconut meal?)

Dates: Dates are a superfood. They contain most of the vitamins and minerals. They are also high in fiber and antioxidants. (what are they?). Magnesium present in dates is a calming mineral and helps to improve stress, sleep, muscle soreness, pain and inflammation. Sweet craving of your child is best to be fulfilled by dates, as it also contains two key nutrients that play a role in sound sleep- vitaminB6 and potassium. (Recipe of chocolate using dates)

Pumpkin seeds: A study published in 2005 in Nutritional neuroscience suggested that consuming tryptophan alongside a carbohydrates source is one of the best ways to treat sleep deprivation. Pumpkin seeds may be small but they are packed with valuable nutrients like healthy fats, magnesium, fiber, antioxidants and zinc. If your kid has trouble sleeping, having a few pumpkin seeds before bed with small amounts of carbohydrates such as a piece of fruit, may be beneficial in providing the body with tryptophan needed for melatonin production, which can lead to better sleep. For younger kids, powdered pumpkin seeds can be an option.

Recipe for Nuts, Pumpkin seed, Dates sweets

  • ¾ cup water 
  • 6 dates or fig or mix
  • 2 tbsp jaggery (add more for sweetness)
  • 2 fresh cardamom powder 
  • 1 handful cashews
  • 1 handful almonds
  • 1 handful hazelnut
  • 1 handful walnuts
  • 1 handful sunflower seeds
  • 1 handful pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup Milk 
  • 2 tbsp ghee or unsalted butter

Roast nuts and seeds slightly. Let them cool before making powder in grinder. Soak dates in hot water for 5 minutes and purée it.  Now cook dates puree and remaining water along with jaggery in NON STICK pan. Once the syrup becomes thick and starts becoming a darker colour (in 5-7 minutes), add the powder of all the nuts and seeds to the pan. Add milk. Add ghee. Now keep stirring till the mixture starts to come together and becomes like a dough (5-7 minutes). It will start coming off the edge of the pan and become like a big ball. Switch off gas. Add cardamom powder to the mixture and mix. 

You can add any nut or seed you like. Add more milk if required to cook the whole mixture. 

Take butter paper and apply some ghee to it and spread the mixture on it. Let it cool outside or refrigerate once sightly cool. Cut in any shape. Serve!

Sorry for the quick, partly eaten photo. My elder one couldn’t wait 🙂

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