Do you know a highly active child who seems to have an endless supply of energy? The behavior of these children can be frustrating and confusing. Parents may even fear that there is something “wrong” with their child. However, high levels of activity are typical of many children! Almost every child is very active in some circumstances, and some may fit this description more frequently than others.
These children do not necessarily have a disorder such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). It is also important to note that an inattentive child doesn’t necessarily have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), which is similar to ADHD but without hyperactivity. In many cases, diet may be a major factor in highly active children.
Linking sugar and other ingredients with very active behavior in children is a theory that began in the early 1970s by Dr. Benjamin Feingold. Parents who perceived that their children become more active after consuming sugar-filled foods have since furthered this theory.
DOES SUGAR AFFECT YOUR CHILD’S SLEEP?
Eating and drinking too much sugar plays a huge part in causing sleep disorders for children as young as 3. Children are consuming high levels of sugar today because it’s readily available in almost everything it seems. Dr Karina Patel, a consultant in dental sleep medicine at London Sleep Centre in Dubai, says “If there is sugar in their diet in any form, this will cause inflammation and the first point of inflammation is in the nose. This makes breathing very difficult.” This will prevent oxygen from getting to the lungs, resulting in shallow breathing or breathing pauses. Reduced oxygen flow to the brain disrupts restorative sleep, which is critical for every child’s brain development.
This disruption creates problems in areas of the brain that control children’s behavior, emotions and ability to be attentive, often resulting in increased hyperactivity. Warning signs for parents include snoring, sleeping with mouth open, saliva on the pillow, dark circles around the eyes. Children will also be irritable, emotional and act out often. This is a vicious cycle that begins with too much sugar.
WHAT TO AVOID
It is wise to avoid sugary snacks 2-3 hours before bedtime since they can cause a fluctuation of blood sugar levels. Immediately after eating a sugary snack, blood sugar levels will increase and then fall significantly shortly after (also known as a sugar crash). In order to re-stabilize blood sugar levels, the body will trigger the adrenal glands to release adrenaline – a stress hormone – which can cause toddlers to awaken once they have already fallen asleep. Soda, sweetened fruit juice, and chocolate, are the top items to avoid before bedtime.
WHY SLEEP IS CRITICAL
Ample sleep is critical throughout the early years of life as the body does much of its building and repair work. Toddlers should be averaging somewhere between 12-14 hours of sleep within a 24-hour period. Yet, today many toddlers struggle with sleep issues, either not being able to fall asleep quickly or not remaining in a deep sleep state for long enough. Although diet is not the only cause for sleep issues, it can certainly play a large role in determining the quality of slumber a child gets.
When children sleep well, they are able to cope with challenges, changes, difficult emotions, and transitions during the day. These things are naturally challenging for toddlers to begin with, so a nutritious diet low in sugar will help your child thrive in these situations.
FIVE EASY WAYS TO REDUCE SUGAR CONSUMPTION
Swap out sugar-covered cereals with an item that has five ingredients or less – and keep sugar under 10g.
Focus on whole grains, vegetables, and fruit when packing lunches.
Replace sugary sports drinks, soda, and juices with naturally sweetened water, teas, or milk.
Skip the ice cream and serve icy snacks like homemade fruit sorbets and smoothies.
Switch out candies, cookies, and cakes with wholesome snacks and fruits (apples with peanut butter, peaches and plain yogurt, whole wheat crackers and cheese, etc.).
CALCIUM AND MAGNESIUM PROMOTE SLEEP
Foods that are rich in calcium and magnesium are helpful for improving sleep. These minerals help calm the nervous system and can help toddlers fall and stay asleep. Calcium can be found in high quality dairy, almonds, sesame seeds, leafy greens, oranges, and sardines whereas magnesium can be found in seeds, nuts, and green vegetables. Try and include these foods in their daily diet.
HOW CAN YOU CALCULATE YOUR SUGAR CONSUMPTION?
One small cube of sugar is equal to four grams. Grab a box of cereal, a fruit juice, or a box of cookies from your refrigerator or pantry. Find the amount of sugar in grams in this item, and divide that number by four. The number you see is the amount of sugar cubes for just one serving of that item. Most often, we consume more than one serving, and those sugar cubes quickly add up. This method will allow you to see exactly how much sugar you, or the small mouths you may feed, are consuming on a daily basis.
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Risvi, A. (2016, May 21). Too much sugar a factor in child sleep disorders, doctors say. Retrieved from https://www.thenational.ae/uae/health/too-much-sugar-a-factor-in-child-sleep-disorders-doctors-say-1.181554.