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The Connection Between Iron Deficiency and Sleep

One of the things I love about a non-sleep training approach to sleep is that it allows space to consider all of the external factors that may be influencing a child’s sleep. 

In our house, this has been so critical to helping our family get better sleep. For my middle son, in particular, we have been managing his recurring iron deficiency since infancy. Without the knowledge that low iron levels can cause sleep interruptions, we would have struggled to come up with a solution to his restless nights, frequent wakes, and daytime irritability. 

Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world, and yet, it is often overlooked in children. 

Read on to discover how you can improve your child’s iron intake, and get to the bottom of whether iron deficiency may be creating sleepless nights in your home. 

Iron Deficiency and Sleep

When we look at iron deficiency and sleep, we are specifically looking at a person’s iron stores, or ferritin levels. Ideally, we would like to see ferritin at 50ng/mL or above to have a positive impact on reducing frequent wakes and restlessness at night. However, the normal range begins much below 50ng/mL and so many kids (and adults alike) test within the “normal” range, but still have trouble sleeping. 

To understand more about the impacts of iron deficiency on sleep – and what you can do about it – check out this informative episode of the Rebel Talk Podcast. Dr. Michelle Peris, ND, breaks down the research on iron deficiency and sleep. In the show notes, she also includes links to a variety of studies that shed more light on the link between iron deficiency and sleep. Here is the link to the podcast.

You can also check out this conversation I had with Dr. Michelle on my Instagram

Recipe: Veggie Meatballs

One of the best ways to increase your child’s iron levels is through their diet. I love this recipe from The Busy Baker (and spoiler alert: so do my kids!) because they include a few really great sources of iron – meat and leafy greens. This recipe calls for ground turkey, but you can use absolutely any ground meat. It also calls for spinach, but we regularly use kale in it’s place. The bonus is that they freeze really well and are amazing for baby led weaning and for older kids, too. 

2 pounds lean ground meat (turkey, chicken or beef) (approximately 1 kilo)
1 small red onion minced
3/4 cup grated carrot
2/3 cup chopped spinach or kale (fresh is best as frozen gives off too much liquid)
2/3 cup breadcrumbs
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare a large baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper or aluminum foil (if using aluminum foil, spray with cooking spray).

Add the turkey meat to a large bowl, along with all the other ingredients. Mix together very well with a wooden spoon or your hands, making sure every ingredient is evenly distributed.

Roll into balls about the size of one and a half tablespoons. Be sure all the meatballs are the same size so they bake evenly.

Add the meatballs to the prepared baking tray and bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for about 15-20 minutes or until the internal temperature of the meatballs reach 165 Fahrenheit (74 Celsius).

Another great way to add iron to your child’s diet (and yours!) is to cook with cast iron and use the Lucky Iron Fish. In our house, we use it to make iron infused drinking waker: boil 1 litre of water with 2-3 drops of citrus, along with the iron fish for 10 minutes. Remove fish, cool and use