How to create healthy sleep habits

Sleep. Until you have to do without it, you don’t realise how good it is.

If your child isn’t a great sleeper, you can go years and years without a decent night’s sleep.

For the parents, this can get frustrating and pretty taxing, emotionally and physically.

It isn’t doing the child any favours either.  Lack of sleep can lead to symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as the child tries stay focussed.

There are lots of issues than can disrupt sleep and you can read about them here.

The amount of sleep a child needs will vary, depending on their level of activity, their age, and their individuality.  For a primary school age child, they are going to need between 10 and 12 hours per day.  A good way to know if your child is getting enough quality and quantity of sleep is their demeanour in the morning.  If you have to wake them every day, and drag them out of bed, or they are very cranky, chances are they need more or better quality sleep.

Sleep hygiene refers to all the habits around sleep and bedtime, and this is the best place to start to improve your child’s sleep

First up, have a think about how much exercise, preferably outdoor, your child is getting.  Kids need about 1 hour of exercise, through the day, not just before bedtime.  This is highly variable however.  Two of my kids fall asleep at the same time very night, it doesn’t matter if they have done nothing all day.  The other child needs to have lots and lot of running around, or she struggles to get to sleep.  Most parents I meet also need a bit more movement in their lives, so get out and get active with your kids for an hour a day.  Everyone will benefit.

Screens wreak havoc with bedtime.  They make it extremely hard for kids to fall asleep.  And, again, some kids will not be affected.  Generally speaking, cut out screens for at least 2 hours before bed. So no TV or iPad after dinner.  Instead, read books, do a puzzle, or just play.  Of course, this also means that parents can’t be on their devices in the time between dinner and bed.

Chamomile tea is a lovely soothing bedtime drink.  Some children like it, and like the ritual of having a cup of tea like mum.  If it is too bitter, add a touch of honey, but try to get your child used to bitter flavours as they have lots of benefits for gut health.

Kids thrive on routine (although not all parents do!).  Have a predictable routine every day, which starts at the same time.  We accidently got into the habit of setting an alarm at 7pm when it is time to brush teeth (the alarm was actually to remind me to switch over my milk kefir, but it became the bedtime alarm!).

Be firm, but kind.  Anxious children may need a parent to lie with them.  As long as it is for a reasonable length of time (like 5-15 minutes), this is fine.  If it is for 3 hours, it probably isn’t fine.

In my online course “Create Cool, Calm and Cooperative kids”, I take parents through a bedroom audit to see how their environment is affecting their child’s sleep, as there are lots of factors which disrupt sleep, but are really easily fixed.

Foods that help with sleep include:


These contain an amino acid called tryptophan.  The body uses tryptophan to make two neurotransmitters called melatonin and serotonin which help with sleep.  These lovely brain-shaped nuts also contain small amounts of melatonin itself.


Almonds are a good source of magnesium.  Magnesium is a mineral that a lot of people are deficient in.  It is very calming, and helps your muscles relax, so definitely good for sleep

Green leafy vegetables

These provide calcium to the body, which the body also needs to help make melatonin, which helps us sleep.


I always noticed when my kids were babies that they slept much better on the nights they had fish for dinner.  Seafood is a really good protein source, including the amino acid tryptophan.

Tart cherries

These contain melatonin and help kids get to sleep, but the catch is in the name.  Tart cherries are tart!  You can buy tart cherry juice, but not many kids would drink it.  I have made it into ice blocks, and it definitely works, but giving a child juice every night is not ideal (but better than medication!).


These can be helpful, but again they have to be whole grains.  If your child has problems sleeping, you could give them a small bowl of porridge made with milk before bed.  The oats need to be rolled oats, not quick oats.  The carbohydrates from the oats and the calcium from the milk will help.

Boiled egg

This is a traditional way to help with sleep, the protein keeps your child’s tummy full overnight.  This will help your child get to sleep and stay asleep.

What about foods to avoid before bed?


There is caffeine in chocolate, so it your child has a Freddo before bed, switch it for something else, like some natural yoghurt, or a small piece or cheese.


Ice cream after dinner is a big no-no.  The sugar will have them wired at exactly the same time they should be winding down.

Doing a food allergy test can be a really good short-cut to improving sleep.  You can book one here.

If your child has issues with behaviour or sleep, I highly recommend doing my online course “Create Cool, Calm and Cooperative kids”.  In this I guide parents on a 6 week journey to improve a child’s mood through food.  There are lots of recipes, coaching videos, a closed Facebook group for extra support and handouts.  Start your journey today!

Rice paper rolls

Don’t shy away from the coriander in this recipe – it is really good at detoxifying, and children need this!

Serves 4


350g minced pork

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

1 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder

350g finely shredded Chinese cabbage

4 green onions, sliced

1 tablespoon tamari (gluten free soy sauce)

¼ cup oyster sauce (gluten free)

¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh coriander leaves

12 x 22cm rice paper sheets

2 tablespoons lime juice


Cook pork, ginger, and spice in a large, non-stick frying pan, until pork is cooked through.

Add cabbage, onion, tamari, oyster sauce and 2 tablespoons of the coriander to the pan.

Cook until the cabbage has just wilted.

Place one sheet of rice paper in medium bowl of warm water until softened slightly.

Lift carefully out of the water and place on chopping board.  Pat dry with kitchen paper.

Place one twelfth of the filling mixture in the centre of the sheet.

Fold in the sides, roll top to bottom to enclose filling.

Repeat with remaining rice paper sheets and filling.

Paleo English muffins

Makes 8 muffins


For the plain option

2 cups almond flour or sunflower seed flour

½ cup coconut flour

2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon celtic sea salt

8 egg

¼ cup melted coconut oil

1 cup water

For the fruit option add the following

2 teaspoon cinnamon

4 tablespoon maple syrup

½ cup sultanas


Grease silicon muffin tray.

Mix the dry ingredients together well.

Add the wet ingredients and mix well.

Fill 12 holes in a silicon muffin tray.

Bake for 20 minutes at 180C.

Remove from muffins from oven and cool on cooling track.

Slice in half and toast in toaster, or serve with bacon and eggs.

Coconut mango chia pudding

This is a delicious and refreshing breakfast or afterschool snack. All the ingredients can be kept at home in cupboard or freezer, making it a great recipe when you haven’t had a chance to go to the shop.
The chia seeds make it high in fibre, calcium and essential fatty acids.

Serve 5


200g Frozen Mango

250g Coconut Milk

1/2 cup Chia seeds

125g Frozen Blueberries


Use a blender to mix together the frozen mango and coconut milk to form a smooth mixture.

Stir through the chia seeds, make sure they are evenly dispersed.

Divide mixture between 5 glasses and decorate the top with blueberries.

Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

Is yoghurt good for you?

Yoghurt is a traditional food which has been enjoyed for thousands of years.  It is made by fermenting milk, with certain bacteria or ‘cultures’.

Fermenting the milk changes the sugar in the milk, the lactose, into lactic acid.  Plain yoghurt will have a tart or sharp taste because of the lactic acid.

Yoghurt made in this traditional way has lots of benefits.  As with any fermented food, you are eating bacteria which is great for your gut health.  Milk is much easier to digest once it has been fermented, so even people who are lactose intolerant might be able to consume it.

The traditional method of yoghurt making can be easily replicated at home.  You just need a starter.  This can be either some yoghurt (which you might have to buy), or some probiotics.  To incubate the yoghurt, you can use an electric yoghurt maker, a thermos flask style yoghurt maker, or an oven with just the light turned on.  It takes 24 hours fermentation to digest all the lactose.

If you are buying yoghurt, you need to read the ingredients carefully, as some yoghurts are very far removed from traditional yoghurt.

The best choice is a yoghurt with a very short ingredient list, preferably made from organic milk.  These will often be in a larger tub, such as a 1kg container.  The ingredient list should have full fat milk, cultures and very little else.  There may be added milk powder which can be used to get a consistent product no matter what season (cow’s milk is a natural product and changes with seasons).  Buying 1kg tub is also much cheaper and creates less plastic waste than buying smaller containers.

Squeezy yoghurts are super popular with kids, and a super expensive way to buy yogurt.  This is the section of the fridge where you will find lots of food like substances masquerading as yoghurt.  Taking a squeezy yoghurt to school is convenient, but make sure it is a healthy choice.  Don’t rely on food in pouches too much as it doesn’t promote normal eating habits and jaw development.

My favourite ‘squeezy’ style yoghurt is Vaalia yoghurt with 3x the probiotic.  The probiotic in this yoghurt is Lactobacillus rhamnosus LGG.  This probiotic is great for reducing allergies in kids and improving gut health.  This is not a perfect choice however, as sugar is the 4th thing on the ingredient list, and it also contains rice starch, acidity regulators, natural flavours and gelatin.

Another reasonable choice is Rafferty’s garden plain yoghurt with no added sugar.  It literally contains milk, milk solids, cream and cultures.  The pouch size is tiny though, only 70g, so this really only is for very little kids.  It also costs about three times the price per kilo, compared to buying a 1kg pot.

Watch out for outlandish claims also.  One Petit Miam squeezy yoghurt says on the front ‘with real fruit and veg and the goodness of milk’.  Let’s examine this claim!  It contains 4% beetroot.  The pouch weighs 70g.  4% of 70g is 2.8g.  Bear in mind a serve of vegetables is about 75g.  This yoghurt contains 3% of a serve of vegetables!!