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Does your child struggle to fall asleep at night? It could be Iron Deficiency.

Updated: Jul 27, 2023

Is your child having a problem falling asleep at a reasonable hour? Do they find it hard to relax and wriggle restlessly in their bed for a long time before falling asleep? You struggle to understand why they are not tired as they do a lot of sport and are very active during the day. This surely is enough to make them fall asleep, but no!


You have tried magnesium (the most common mineral deficiency for sleep problems) and have banned screens in the afternoons and evenings, but it hasn’t made a difference to their sleep problems. If this is the case, then maybe they are deficient in the very important mineral iron.


Studies have revealed a link between childhood hyperactivity and sleep disturbances with low serum ferritin levels. These studies have shown that children with serum ferritin levels below 45ng/ml have more disturbed sleep than children with higher levels. Ferritin is a blood cell protein that contains iron. A ferritin test shows how much iron your body is storing, so if ferritin is low, it indicates iron stores are low and you have iron deficiency. Although this study was on children with ADHD, iron deficiency is a potential issue for any child with sleep problems. For more details of the study see: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19205783


Children have relatively high iron needs because of rapid body growth, so they are at risk of developing iron deficiency, particularly if they are very active and have a tendency for fussy eating. Also, children with digestive issues (e.g. tummy pain, bloating, gas, diarrhoea, constipation) and food allergies may not be absorbing iron as well as they should because of inflammation in the digestive system. So improving their gut function is crucial to help bring their sleep patterns back into a healthy balance.


Iron deficiency is often an under-recognized cause of sleep disturbances. Common symptoms in children that could be linked to iron deficiency:


General weakness and fatigue

Shortness of breath

Abnormally pale skin, rims of eyes, nails, and tongue

Headaches

Irritability or anxiety

Depression

Low appetite

Brittle nails with longitudinal ridging

Unusual food cravings, e.g. Ice, dirt, etc. A craving for ice is very common.

Blue shading in eyes

Dizziness or light-headedness

Rapid or irregular heartbeat or hearing heartbeat in the ear or head.

Sensitive to cold with cold hands and feet

Restless legs and the inability to keep still

Feeling itchy

Hair loss


Iron is essential for the synthesis and use of the important brain neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, adrenalin, and epinephrine. They are important for mood, emotion, focus, attention, and sleep.


If you are concerned your child may be low in iron, it is best to go to your GP and get a blood test done in the first instance. It is important to know what their ferritin level is.


What foods are a good source of Iron?


Heme iron sources from meat, fish, and poultry have the highest absorption. Grass-fed beef, lamb, and liver are excellent sources. Plant sources of iron (non-heme) have a lower absorption, so should ideally be combined with animal sources for maximum absorption. Plant-based sources include spinach, lentil, beans, peas, apricots, prunes, raisins, molasses, tofu, and spirulina. Foods rich in vitamin C, such as potato, capsicum, broccoli, strawberries, and citrus fruits, help to increase the absorption of iron.


Some children may require supplementation because their dietary iron intake is insufficient. My favourite iron supplement is any that has iron glycinate, which is an easily absorbed form of iron. For children, I really like Harker Herbals Iron Boost which is a liquid form of iron glycinate with the addition of nutrient cofactors and tastes pleasant.


Please get in touch if I can help you.



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