Essential food tips for sleep-deprived parents

Kinderling News & Features

Been up all night with the kids and running on empty? Sleep deprivation driving you to constant coffee hits and a chronic case of the munchies? Don't beat yourself up - there's some serious biological reasons behind these cravings, and understanding them is half the battle to beating them.

Naturopath Emma Sutherland admits the first 14 months of her daughter’s life were “brutal". “My daughter was a reflux baby and I was awake a lot,” she says, “I didn’t even have a sweet tooth but I craved chocolate all the time because it felt like the only thing that kept me going.”  

Having learnt from her own mistakes, Emma now advises mums and dads to lay off quick fixes and make a few easy, healthy tweaks to their diet. Here’s her simple, scientific advice to get you back in the land of the living.

Listen to Emma's interview with Kinderling Conversation:

1. Understand what no sleep does to your gut

“When we’re sleep-deprived, there’s an increase in a gut hormone called ghrelin. Ghrelin tells your brain you’re hungry, preferably for sugary foods, because they’ll give you the most energy in the shortest amount of time. It‘s critical to resist sugar cravings and hit protein and healthy fats to offset the surge in ghrelin.

Make sure you start the day well with a good breakfast to kickstart your metabolism. Try something as simple as a couple of eggs with some spinach for breakfast or a nice big bowl of porridge with some chia seeds, walnuts, and some natural yoghurt or a bit of milk.  Porridge with pears and a little honey is also a great way to start the day. These foods will all keep you feeling full for longer.”

2. Make time to drink water

“When we’re tired, we tend to forget about water, but did you know just a 1.5 percent loss of water can leave you feeling fatigued? Be aware that by the time you actually feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated! Make your water more enticing by adding fruit slices and fresh herbs.”

3. Cut back on coffee and chocolate

“They’re both stimulants that fire up our adrenal glands and trigger our ‘fight-or-flight’ response. Glucose is released into the bloodstream, our heart rate and blood pressure increase, and our digestive system doesn’t function well. You get that temporary fix, but once the initial rush is over, we crash and burn and are left more depleted than before.

I’d never say to a sleep-deprived parent to quit coffee and chocolate because they’d probably stab me in the eye, but it’s a good idea to reduce coffee and chocolate and not lean on them as much. Make a conscious decision if you’re going to have a coffee, have a good coffee and try and take a moment to really enjoy it. Be a bit mindful as you drink it and then try to keep it to just one for the day.”

 4. Drink green tea

“It’s really nice to have green tea because it has a bucket-load of antioxidants. It does have some caffeine so it will give you that little boost, but in a way that’s wrapped up with a whole lot of goodness as well. So instead of reaching for the second or third coffee, have some green tea throughout the day as well. Try to stop that at around three or four o’clock though, because it can have a negative impact on your sleep at night.”

5. Hit the nuts

“Parents are often very busy and running about all day, but you can easily take a zip-lock bag full of nuts with you everywhere you go. I really love walnuts because they’ve got so many Omega-3s so they’re fantastic for getting those good fats. Brazil nuts are also good and a combination of both is perfect with a few cashew nuts thrown into the mix. Try and avoid salted nuts and roasted nuts.”

6. Snack on fresh fruit

“Avoid dried fruit because the sugar levels are just too high. Have a whole fresh piece of fruit instead. Pears, for instance, are fantastic. They’re full of fibre which really helps your blood sugar levels and keeps you feeling fuller longer. Make sure you have one to two fresh pieces of fruit a day.”

7. Don’t be scared of carbs

“There’s a movement at the moment for paleo-style diets but they can often include too few carbs. Your body needs carbohydrates at night to maintain serotonin levels in your brain. Serotonin is not only the ‘feel good’ happy hormone; it’s also really important for sleep. Try having half a cup of rice or some sweet potato with dinner. This will give you a better night’s sleep.”

Hear Kinderling Conversation every weekday at 12pm or grab the podcast.