NGC*: Sleep


Today I’m coming to you with some news that I know you’ll like. Which is a treat for me because usually I’m the bearer of bad news – telling you to eat less sugar, drink less alcohol, etc. Today I’m not telling you to do less of something enjoyable. I’m telling you to do more of something enjoyable.

I want you to get more sleep.

The old advice in the weight loss world was no pain no gain. Get up earlier or stay up later so that you could hit the gym.

That old advice jut doesn’t hold up anymore. There is an ever-growing body of research that shows how important adequate sleep is for a healthy weight. Or, to be more accurate, the research is showing that chronic sleep deprivation contributes to weight gain.

So many of us are chronically sleep deprived. We brag about being tired and wear being “busy” as a badge of honour. I believe this needs to stop.

Chronic sleep deprivation means getting less than 7-8 hours of good-quality sleep for at least a few days in a row. Note that there are a few important points in my last sentence. First: the amount of sleep, 7-8 hours. Second: that it takes only a few days in a row to be considered sleep deprived (not the weeks, months, years that I know many of you experience). Third: the quality of sleep is as important as the number of hours.

What affects quality of sleep? Two things that often are overlooked are alcohol and sleep apnea. Yes, it’s true that having a couple of drinks can help you fall asleep. But alcohol interferes with the natural brain patterns during sleep. The result is poor quality sleep. Want to wake up feeling refreshed? Skip the alcohol the night before.

Sleep apnea negatively impacts the quality of your sleep. Sleep apnea and weight have a vicious cycle. Being overweight increases sleep apnea and sleep apnea increases weight gain. I always look for any suspicion of sleep apnea when starting with a client because I know that if there is unaddressed sleep apnea, we can change the client’s eating all we want and we won’t see much change in weight.

How does inadequate (either not enough or poor quality) sleep cause weight gain? There are several ways that the research is finding:

  • Opportunity to Eat. When you are awake longer, you have more time to eat. This is especially impactful if you get the evening munchies. Staying up later means more opportunity to munch away.
  • Craving Pleasure. Sleep deprivation lowers the chemicals in our brain’s pleasure centre. Our brain sends us strong signals to raise these chemicals back up again. The foods that raise these chemicals? Highly processed high sugar, high fat, high salt foods – i.e. “junk food”.
  • Slower Metabolism. There is evidence that being sleep deprived slows down our metabolism. So even if we were eating the same amount of food as if we were well-slept, we’d still get weight gain.
  • Recently a study caught my eye. Now this involved only a small handful of people. So I’d call it preliminary – not enough evidence that I’d put a lot of trust in it yet. But it was interesting nevertheless. In this study they found that having only 4.5 hours of sleep for several nights in a row stimulated the same chemical pathway in the subjects’ brains as is stimulated when you smoke marijuana. Yes, being sleep deprived gave these study participants the munchies.

So what to do? Make getting 7 – 8 hours of sleep a priority. What can you let go of to make this happen? Perhaps it’s turning off that evening Netflix. Maybe it’s hiring a house cleaner or gardener so you have fewer chores. And, if you routinely get 7 – 8 hours of sleep but you still wake up feeling exhausted, skip the daily glass (or two) of wine or ask your doctor for a referral for sleep apnea screening.

*A Nutrition Game Changer (NGC) is a food or habit that has made a big impact on the nutritional health of clients I’ve worked with. And, in my life too. Some may call these nutrition hacks. But I'm not a fan of that phrase. I share one NGC each month.

AHH the Pressure! Is my baby ready for solids or should I wait?

is my baby ready for solids

{Guest Expert blog post for Modern Mama } Many moms contact me wondering if their baby is ready for solid foods. Usually this comes from two places:

  1. Worry that their baby isn’t getting the nutrition that they need from breast milk/ formula.
  2. Pressure from family or friends to introduce baby food.

Here’s the latest scientific-evidence based information on how to know when your baby is ready for solid foods. Use it as ammunition against your under-slept, worrying mind and any well-intentioned advice from others.

Is my baby ready for solids?

Babies are ready for solid foods at about 6 months of age. At this age, babies start running out of the iron that they stored in their bodies while they were in your womb. Breast milk is naturally low in iron so you need to provide your baby with iron from another source – solid foods. Iron is used in overall growth and development. It’s especially important for little one’s brain development – for babies to reach full their cognitive potential. While iron isn’t as much of a concern for babies fed formula, they’re still developmentally ready for you to start feeding them first foods.

Like any developmental stage, babies become ready for first foods at slightly different ages. You will see the following signs in your baby anywhere between 4 and 6 months of age. Your baby is ready for you to start feeding them solid foods when you see the following:

  • Extrusion reflex disappears. The extrusion reflex is when anything put in your baby’s mouth automatically causes them to stick out their tongue, thus forcing it back out again.
  • He can focus his eyes on food placed in front of him.
  • She can sit upright with minimal support.
  • He can hold his head up without support. This is important for safe swallowing.
  • She is very interested in watching people eat and the food on your plate. She may even be grabbing for people’s food, plates, cups etc.

Notice that the presence of teeth isn’t on the list above. You don’t need to wait until little ones have teeth before feeding them baby food.

If your baby was born prematurely or has developmental or health concerns, speak with your health professional about when your baby will be ready to start solid foods.

There is no benefit to starting solids earlier than about 6 months. In fact, there is some emerging scientific evidence that introducing solid foods before babies are 4 months old may increase the risk for food allergies.

There are several persistent myths about when to start feeding your baby solid foods that I want to bust:

  1. Big babies don’t need solid foods earlier. At this age, babies are experts at breast and bottle feeding. And, breast milk and formula are rich sources of nutrients. Feeding your big baby solid foods earlier isn’t necessary or beneficial.
  2. Small babies don’t need solid foods earlier. As I described above, at this age, babies are experts at nursing nutrient-rich breastmilk and formula. Feeding your small baby solid foods earlier isn’t necessary or beneficial.
  3. Feeding babies solid foods doesn’t make babies sleep through the night.While I understand grasping at anything that may get your baby (and you) to sleep through the night, this is a myth. The age that some babies start sleeping through the night happens to be the same age that you start feeding your baby solid foods. While they happen at the same time, it’s not that the one causes the other. Sorry.

In summary, your baby will be ready for first foods at about 6 months of age. There aren’t any nutritional benefits to starting earlier. Nor, will it help you get a decent night’s sleep.

Check out this post for information on choosing puree or Baby Led Weaning (BLW)

Can Certain Foods Keep My Child Awake at Night?

foods keep child awake at night

{Guest Post for Baby Sleep 101 (Joleen Dilk Salyn)} A parent recently asked Joleen this question. Being a food-related question, she forwarded it on to me: "We gave our 2.5 year old daughter Frosted Mini-Wheats right before bed. She slept worse than usual. Did the snack keep her up at night?" In other words, can certain foods keep my child awake at night?

In a nutshell: maybe.

Let me expand.

Mini-Wheats (original) have a fair amount of sugar in them – 10 grams in 21 pieces (that’s 2 ½ teaspoons of sugar).

When scientific researchers investigate the effect of sugar on kids, they find no effect on their behaviour. However, many parents do find that giving their kids foods high in sugar is associated with “hyper” behaviour.

I don’t have a way to explain this gap.

What I do know is that each person is unique. Many of us have sensitivities to foods that the scientific community can’t explain.

So, it could be that the sugar or something else in the cereal that interrupted this little girl’s sleep. Or, it could have been something completely unrelated.

With this in mind, I recommend being a bit of a scientist yourself with your kids – use your observation skills. If you’re finding that some nights your child goes to bed well and other nights are a struggle, do some record keeping. Take as detailed of notes as possible (yes, actually write it down) about everything that happened that day. Your child’s eating (both what they ate and at what times) is just one aspect of their day. Look for any patterns that arise.

Circling back to this parent’s original question, the cereal isn’t what I would suspect initially as the culprit for their child’s rough night. But I wouldn’t rule it out as a possibility. I’d consider it after ruling out all the other more likely possibilities.

Want more information on feeding your little one? Sign-up for my newsletter to get more nutrition tips for babies and children.

Will Starting Solid Foods Make My Baby Sleep Through the Night?

will feeding my baby solid foods make them sleep through the night? {Guest Post at Love Child Organics} Exhausted parents often ask me: “Will starting my baby on solid foods make her sleep through the night?” I understand why Moms and Dads (desperate for some sleep) grasp on to this myth. However, it is a myth. Feeding your baby solid foods won’t make your baby sleep through the night.

Does Starting Solid Foods Make Baby Sleep?

It’s true that some babies start sleeping for longer stretches through the night at about the same time that they start solid foods. But it’s not that the solid foods have caused the sleeping. It’s that for many babies, the developmental stage when we start to feed them solid foods coincides with the developmental stage when they start sleeping for longer periods of time. Sorry exhausted Moms and Dads, it’s not the solid foods causing longer sleep.

While I’m at it busting myths related to starting solid foods, I’ll take the opportunity to address a couple more.

Do Big Babies Need Solid Foods Early?

Myth: Big babies need to be fed solid foods early. This is false. There’s no evidence to support starting solids early for babies who are at the top end of the growth curve. Breast milk and formula are very rich. And, your baby is likely an expert at breastfeeding or formula feeding by this age. Therefore, continuing exclusively breastfeeding or formula feeding until about 6 months is recommended (the same as average-size babies).

Do Small Babies Need Solid Foods Early?

Myth: Small babies need to be fed solid foods early. This is also false. There’s no evidence to support starting solids early for babies who are on the small end of the growth curve. As I mentioned above, breast milk and formula are very rich and your baby is an expert at breastfeeding or formula feeding by this age. So continue to exclusively breastfeed or formula feed your baby until about 6 months (the same as average-size babies).

In summary, starting solids early won’t provide big babies or small babies with extra nutrition. Nor will it make your baby sleep through the night.  Introduce solid foods when your baby is about 6 months old.


Ready to start your baby on solid foods? Here's how to start your baby with purees or Baby Led Weaning (BLW)

Could What I'm Feeding My Toddler be Keeping them Awake?

 Feeding My Toddler Keeping AwakeCould What I’m Feeding my Toddler be Keeping them Awake? I'm often asked by parents about what foods are best at bedtime. And, if there's anything they shouldn't feed their kids before bed. There’s a lot of old wives tales and urban myths about foods and food ingredients either helping or hindering sleep, thus keeping toddlers awake. However, there isn’t strong evidence connecting specific foods and sleep –either preventing sleep or causing kids to fall asleep (and stay asleep).

Here’s a roundup of the most common foods that we hear are connected with sleep.

A Glass of Warm Milk

A glass of warm milk is a classic trick to help kids fall asleep. However, it’s unlikely that it’s the milk itself that makes kids sleepy. What’s more likely is that it’s the routine that gets kids ready for sleep. Kids thrive with routines. It signals to them what’s about to happen next in their world and it tells them what’s expected from them. This includes bedtime routine.

If you choose to have a bedtime snack, have a bedtime snack every day. Serve your child’s bedtime snack in the same place every day (I recommend sitting at the table). Join your child while he/she’s eating and have a conversation. Don’t talk (negotiate) about having two more bites. Instead enjoy the opportunity to connect, perhaps telling stories, talking about your day, etc. Then brush teeth and continue with the rest of the bedtime routine.

Sitting to eat together is an opportunity to connect with each other and wind down from the day. It’s a fantastic way to get kids prepared for falling asleep.


Interestingly, when it’s tested in scientific studies, sugar doesn’t cause kids to be more active. Yet, countless parents can tell you that sugar makes their kids “hyper”. If your little one is having difficulty falling asleep, try keeping sugary treats as occasional daytime foods (as opposed to evening foods) and see if it has an effect on your little ones’ sleep.

Artificial Colours

There is mixed evidence in scientific studies about the effect of artificial colours and the preservative sodium benzoate on kids’ behaviour. Some studies have found that there is no effect on kids’ behavior. Other studies have found that some kids don’t react to these foods but some kids do react. The way to find out if your child is a member of the group of kids who may react, is to eliminate all foods with these additives from your child’s diet for a period of time and see if there’s a change in her/his behavior. Label reading for these foods can be challenging. So, if you’re thinking of testing your child’s reaction to an elimination diet, I recommend working with a dietitian to make sure that you’re catching all food sources and still making sure that your child’s getting all the nutrition that she/he needs.

Food Negotiations

Waking up hungry in the middle of the night can be a side-effect of battling at mealtimes with toddlers who are picky eaters. No-one loves a negotiation like a toddler! Unfortunately, they can enjoy winning the battle so much that they ignore their feelings of hunger resulting in waking up in the middle of the night because they’re hungry.

While it feels awful to hear a child tell you that they’re hungry, resist feeding them a snack in the middle of the night. Feeding snacks in the night rewards kids for not eating at mealtimes. Also, it role models eating snacks in the middle of the night (which we don’t want to encourage). Instead, focus on removing the battles at daytime meals and snacks. How to remove the battles? Well, that’s what I share with you here at my blog. Sign-up to never again miss a toddler nutrition tip (or recipe).

Sleep Health Advice (Guest Post)

SD_LOGO_NEW_TM_CA (1)Today is the first of a new way that I'm offering to help you get the answers that you're looking for. Often parents ask me for recommendations for services beyond feeding and nutrition. So, I'll be sharing articles from folks whom I've hand-picked for their expertise. My first pick - Sleep Consultants. Why? Because sleep is the #1 most common topic that I'm asked about. Also, sleep consultants are a fairly unregulated field so it's buyer beware. Which, in my opinion, isn't very fair for exhausted parents. SleepDreams is who I recommend. They're all real health professionals - Occupational Therapists to be specific and they all are experts in working with kids and sleep.

Here's advice form Jennifer Garden, of SleepDreams.

ENJOY! Kristen

In the quest for more sleep, there is no shortage of opinions from friends, family and even perfect strangers. Most babies by 5 months of age should be 'sleeping through the night'. This means that they should be sleeping at least 6 hours consecutively, or what researchers call 'a long sleep trajectory'. Canadian researchers have looked at when a baby typically demonstrates this skill and it is at 5 months of age. Research also shows that approximately 25 - 30% of infants at 5 months do not sleep a continuous six hours.  They indicate that intervention is the key to helping a child obtain more solid sleep as they do not just 'grow out of it'. Here are some helpful sleep tips for parents with babies over 5 months:

  • Make sure you have a bedtime routine that is predictable (perhaps a bath, change into PJ's, feed, clean teeth, story, song, put to bed).
  • Keep bedtime at around 7:00pm - 7:30pm. Melatonin, the 'sleep' hormone, is typically released by the body at this time which helps your baby get off to sleep.
  • Keep wake up time in the morning and put to bed time at night consistent. This consistency sets the circadian rhythm (the body's natural clock that tells us when to wake and sleep).
  • It is unrealistic to expect your baby to sleep long stretches without night feeding until about 7 or 8 months of age (this depends on the baby and is variable).  Some children sleep longer stretches than 6 hours at a young age but most do not. The gold standard is to achieve 6 hours by 5 months.
  • Changing your baby's diet, e.g. supplementing with formula or starting solids before 6 months does not help s baby sleep longer. Research indicates there is no change in a baby`s sleep patterns who received solids before bedtime when compared to babies who were not given solids.  In fact, early introduction to solid foods maybe associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases such as obesity, adult-onset celiac disease, and eczema.

Lack of sleep in children pre-disposes them to health risks such as obesity and mood disorders. Researchers discovered that some school aged children were misdiagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder when in fact they just were not getting enough sleep! Here are some tips to help with your toddler's sleep:

  • Most children try to miss naps. This generally happens sometime after 2 years of age. This does not mean they are ready to stop napping; they are exerting themselves more as independent little beings, which is exciting, they are growing up! Most children need to nap until the age of 4 or 5 years. Keep persistent with the schedule and you will find your toddler will fall back into the routine of needing his/her nap.
  • Bedtime resistance is one of the most common problems at this age. Try using some positive behavioural approaches, e.g. get down to their level when talking to them. Avoid getting into a power struggle; use empathy and redirect them to the desired activity e.g. brushing teeth, putting on pyjamas. Set limits to the number of stories or songs you will have and make sure to stick with this agreed upon limit.
  • Avoid television/screen time. The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends no television for children under the age of two. At three years children will be at the most physically active stage of their entire life. Make sure you embrace this active fun time and provide them with lots of opportunities during the day to run, jump, swim, hang from monkey bars, and slide down slides. This will help them achieve the daily movement their body craves and also helps with night time sleep. If your child watches TV or has any screen time (computers, smart phones etc...), limit their exposure to 20 minutes and make sure this activity is at least 2 hours prior to bedtime.

Preparation for bedtime should be a calming, relaxing time of the day when you unwind with your kids. So often it can be a struggle and strain on a family. It takes patience to help your children learn to get to sleep by themselves. Additional patience can be found through getting some more sleep yourself. Just like when you are on an airplane and you don your own oxygen mask first, you need to care for yourself so that you can care for another. Turn off the television, computer or smart phone early to rest your mind and try to get additional physical exercise which helps kids and adults alike with sleep.

If you need help to sort through the many reasons your little one isn’t getting to sleep or sleeping well through the night, call Jennifer and her team of registered occupational therapists today. Most extended health care plans cover the cost of occupational therapy!



Jennifer Garden, B.H.K., MClSc. OT, MSc, is a registered occupational therapist and mom of twins, who specialises in sleep for infants and children in her private practice, Sleepdreams. She is also active in the area of sleep research with the Sleep2Treat research group at Sunnyhill and Children’s Hospital in Vancouver. Visit her at

Kids' Bedtime Snacks – Do or Don’t?

sleep Rarely do I complete a workshop without a parent asking me about kids' bedtime snacks – are they a ‘do’ or a ‘don’t’?

In short – either option can work. But, you must make a choice. And, there are common pitfalls that you want to avoid. Otherwise, kids' bedtime snacks can actually contribute to them not eating well at dinner. And, contribute to kids not meeting their nutrition needs.

Often I see families only offering their kids bedtime snacks when their picky eater doesn’t eat well at dinner. This is the ‘don’t’. It’s a ‘don’t’ because it tends to backfire. Kids quickly figure out that if they don’t eat at dinner (where they usually are presented with more challenging foods), they can get a bedtime snack only a short while later that includes favourite foods.

Unfortunately, you’re reinforcing the behavior that you don’t want. You’re inadvertently rewarding kids for not eating their dinner.

Instead, make a new family rule – choose either:

  1. There is always a kids bedtime snack
  2. There is never a kids bedtime snack

If you choose to never have bedtime snacks, kids will quickly learn that if they choose to not eat at dinner, they’ll need to wait until breakfast the next day to eat again.

If you choose that there is always a bedtime snack, make sure that there is at least 1 hour between dinner and bedtime snack. And, at bedtime snack offer foods from 2 – 4 food groups. Sometimes choose to offer favourite foods. And, sometimes choose to offer a challenging food.

Oh, and brush teeth after bedtime snack.

Check out my book for more s tips for picky eater toddlers and preschoolers.