Iron, Children and Sleep!

Iron, Children and Sleep!

Iron is one of the most important dietary requirements for your child. As parents we are often aware that our children from the age of 6 month (or when they start solids as young as 17weeks) need a healthy amount of iron in their diet to be able to function and grown to their full potential, but what does this really mean.

Iron is a mineral found in the blood which helps transport oxygen around the body. Iron is also very important for your child’s normal brain development and a healthy immune system. There are 2 types of iron which are found in our diets and both play an important role in helping to maintain a healthy level of iron function in your child’s body. These two types are:

  1. Haem iron: which is an animal based iron source and best source of iron.

Haem iron is found in the following foods:

  • Meats (beef, lamb, pork)

  • Poultry (chicken, turkey)

  • Fish and shellfish

  • Offal (liver, kidney)

2. Non-Haem iron: which is found in plant based foods and a good source of iron but abortion may not be as effective

Non-Haem iron is found in the following foods.

  • Wholegrain bread and cereals

  • Iron fortified cereals (from 17 weeks)

  • Legumes

  • Green leafy vegetables

  • Dried fruit

  • Eggs

  • Nuts (if above 3 and no allergies)​

By ensuring your child has a healthy balance of these types of foods in their diet from the right ages, this will help maintain healthy iron levels, growth, development and sleep. By combining iron rich foods with Vitamin C rich food, this will help boost the absorption rate and quality of your child's iron rich foods. Good sources of Vitamin C include”

  • Citrus Fruits (eg. oranges)

  • Tropical fruits (eg. pineapple)

  • Berries (eg. blueberries)

  • Vegetables (eg. tomatoes, capsicum, broccoli)​

If you have a child who does not eat meat, or your family follow a vegetarian diet and do not consume any of the Haem iron’s, then it is important they are receiving a well balanced diet with sufficient amounts of Non-Haem irons rich foods in their diet. It is always a good idea to consult with your healthy care processional or paediatric dietician in regards to any form of vegetarian diet to ensure the diet is balanced and does not need any extra iron supplements to boost your child’s iron intake.

The following table is a good indication of how much iron your child needs a day from 1-18years of age:

Age mg/day

Boy and Girls 1-3 years 9 mg

Boy and Girls 4-8 years 10 mg

Boy and Girls 9-13 years 8 mg

Boy 14-18 years 11 mg

Girls 14-18 years 15 mg

(generally 20mg of iron per day is considered the safe upper limit for children)

There are a number of ways your child may be risk of becoming or being iron deficient. It is important to understand these risks and aim to ensure your child’s is receiving a balance and healthy diet which is age appropriate. The following is a list of causes that can lead to iron deficiency in our children:

  • When solids are first introduce (not before 17 weeks) iron rich foods such as iron fortified cereals are not included in their diet.

  • Delayed introduction of solids. Solids should be introduced no later the 6 months. From 6 months your child natural iron levels deplete and need to be then maintains by iron from there diet.

  • Cows milk in introduces and substituted for breast milk or formula before the age of 12 months.

  • There is a milk/food imbalance in a child’s diet, where they are receiving to much milk (formula, breast milk or cows milk), filling the child’s up to much and decreasing their appetite for a food diet. From the age of 12 months a child only needs between 350-600ml of any form of milk in their diet. Milk should always be given after food at this age to ensure a healthy food appetite.

  • There are other less common cause of an iron deficiency in children, such as absorption issues, and if you are ever concerned then it is important to seek advice from your Doctor.

The common signs of an iron deficiency is tiredness, but unable to sleep properly, irritability and loss of appetite. But not all children with show signs of iron deficiency, therefore importation to ensure they have a healthy balanced diet to try rule out any iron deficiency concerns.

So then the big question.... “How does an iron deficient effect your child's sleep?”.

Iron deficiencies are accountable for the most common single nutrient deficiency in the world, with an estimated 20-25% of the world’s infants iron deficient. We are very lucky to live in Australia and have access to good food and medication support. A study conducted by the Sleep and Functional Neurobiology Laboratory of the Institute of Nutrition and Food Technology (INTA), University of Chile, have shown different motor activity patterning in all sleep-waking states and several differences in sleep states organisation in children who are iron deficient. This study in particular reported findings of an altered sleep patterns representing an underlying mechanism that play havoc with optimal brain functioning during sleep and wakefulness phases in children with and recovering from an iron deficiency.

Basically the patients who took part in this study experienced more of a REM (Rapid Eye Movement - light sleep) state of sleep and less of a non-REM (deep restorative sleep) throughout the sleeping periods both day and night. This means that sleep was less restorative and broken, reducing the children's full potential to be able learn, grow, develop, process memory and learning, decrease immunity and render these children overtire and poorly rested.

Therefore by helping to ensure your child’s having a healthy diet and obtaining the accurate amount of iron needed for their age, you will be help to ensure they are able to sleep happy. A child who has a healthy balance of iron rich foods in their diet are physically able to reach a much more restorative (non-REM sleep state) level of sleep both day and night. This also means that you are helping give your child the greatest opportunity to learn, grow and develop in a way that they naturally deserve and require.

Monitoring and ensure your child is receiving a healthy iron rich diet may not solve all your child’s sleep issues at once, as their may be other elements of sleep that may need to be addresses. But by helping to improve one part of your child’s sleep element needs (if needed), you are helping them to physically be able to learn to sleep better when and if they need. A happy sleeping child requires balance in their lives and diet, therefore a balanced diet works to help balance a child’s life and sleep happy for a life time.

If you have any sleep concerns or would like some extra support with your little ones sleep, please contact me for more information on the many ways I can help you and your family.

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