Diet and nutrients in the modulation of infant sleep: A review of the literature

Nutr Neurosci. 2018 Apr;21(3):151-161. doi: 10.1080/1028415X.2016.1258446. Epub 2016 Nov 21.


Objectives: The establishment of organized sleep patterns is an important developmental process during infancy. Little is known about the role of nutrition in sleep maturation. This review focuses on exploring the link between infant sleep and nutrition with the aim to provide an overview of existing literature on the impact of diet and specific nutrients on sleep modulation in infants.

Methods: An exploratory literature search was performed on the topic in Medline, Scopus and Cochrane Library databases, with a focus on publications in English.

Results: Both the type of nutrients consumed and the timing at which they were consumed, relative to sleeping time, have been reported to influence infant sleep. Some nutrients have been shown to naturally fluctuate in maternal breast milk with circadian rhythm, and nutrients such as tryptophan, nucleotides, essential fatty acids and Omega-3 long-chain fatty acids have been suggested to impact infant sleep.

Discussion: In summary, little is known about the nutritional impact on infant sleep and sleep maturation, particularly with regard to specific nutrients. While nutrients like tryptophan and nucleotides seem to impact sleep at the level of brain activity, some fatty acids may affect sleep as a result of their role in supporting the maturity of the central nervous system. In our view, the existing literature indicates that the link between nutrition and infant sleep may be a promising concept to support this crucial phase of early development.

Keywords: Central nervous system; Diet; Infants; Nutrition; Sleep; Supplements.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Breast Feeding
  • Child Development*
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Diet* / adverse effects
  • Evidence-Based Medicine*
  • Feeding Methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Behavior
  • Infant Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Lactation
  • Male
  • Maternal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / etiology
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / prevention & control
  • Sleep*