Recently, Penelope has been having a tough time falling asleep in the evenings. I know she is tired - perhaps even too overtired and that's the problem - after her long days at daycare. She comes home tired and wanting to just relax. But when it's bedtime, she has trouble turning off. Then inevitably, she doesn't want to get out of her crib in the morning and I have to spend a lot of time waking her and getting her out of bed during an already rushed morning.
I started racking my brain for how to help her fall asleep more easily. We had an established routine, we did all the things on paper for a good bedtime: active days, dinner, bath time, story time, lullabies and tuck in time.
One evening, I read my friend Reesa's article about the effects of food dyes on her daughter. Her daughter struggled with bedtime and Reesa took a look at her child's diet. She pinpointed her challenges to food dye. By cutting them out, her family's life was instantly changed for the better. This was a real eye opener for me. I began thinking about all the things that Penelope eats throughout the day, but especially at night. Could that be affecting her sleep?
I never noticed any side effects from food dye specifically (though it is now something I will monitor), but it did make me realize how much sugar she eats in the evenings. One of her very favorite items are fruit snacks. She could easily eat two bags between after school and bed time. Yes, I buy them and keep them in her closet in her room and she knows exactly where they are. She would whine for them and I'd give in. Before I knew it, she was foregoing dinner all together and only wanting 'nashies' - her term for fruit snacks.
And some nights I'd give in. Some nights I'd force her to eat dinner before a snack, but others I'd out and out let her have the snacks without dinner.
But Rachel, you may ask, it's so obvious that would affect her evening routine so why would you let her have them at all? Let alone in place of dinner?
And the truth is that at the end of the day, I have severe Mom guilt from being away from her all day long. I get 1 hour with her in the evenings and I don't want to spend that time arguing with her, or listening to her whine or making her upset. I want to spend that time being a fun Mom with smiles and laughing and snuggling.
But. Once I put the obvious 2 + 2 together and realized that the evening sugar could be causing her listlessness at bedtime, I cut it out all together. We decided to try no sugar-free evenings, aside from natural sugar like fruit. She gets dinner, or if she isn't hungry for a full meal, she can have a small snack like hummus or cheese and crackers and her fruit. But that's it. No sugar, no 'nashies'. And you know what? The first night we fought about it and she whined a lot. And she never asked for them again, even during the day or on the weekends.
We've been doing the sugar-free evenings for about two weeks now and I've found that generally, she falls asleep a bit more easily and more quickly. She certainly has been waking up happier in the morning. One evening, on a weekend, I did let her have a sugary snack before bed...and you know what? She didn't fall asleep until 10pm after we put her in bed at 8. So that was all I needed to know. Sugar-free evenings are working!
In a way, I feel silly for even posting this article. It's all so obvious to me now, and I wonder if I am the only Mom who never realized not to give their kid sugar at night? Regardless, now I know better. Even on the weekends, we have a 5pm sugar cut off. It's just the way it has to be.
So tell me your stories. Do you have bedtime problems with your kids? Do you have a no sugar rule? We are still struggling a bit with other bedtime routine things, but that's a topic for another day...