The fine-tuning and integration of social and biological rhythms should be a priority for everyone, especially children. As a result, the opportunity to sleep should be tailored to a child’s changing sleep requirements. Unfortunately, today’s children are highly unlikely to get enough sleep or to live on a consistent and predictable schedule. Sleep deprivation or disruption has an impact on the homeostatic and hormonal systems that underpin somatic and intellectual growth, maturation, and bioenergetics.
According to new research, newborns who sleep longer and wake up less frequently during the night are less likely to be overweight in infancy.
Scientists have long believed that getting enough sleep at night is essential for good health. Few studies, however, emphasize the importance of getting enough sleep during the first few months of life. According to new research from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, and collaborators, newborns who sleep longer and wake up less frequently throughout the night are less likely to be overweight in infancy. Their findings were published in the journal Sleep.
While there is a well-established link between insufficient sleep and weight gain in adults and older children, this link has not previously been recognized in infants. We discovered in this study that not only shorter nighttime sleep, but also more sleep awakenings, were associated with a higher risk of infants becoming overweight in the first six months of life.Susan Redline
“While there is a well-established link between insufficient sleep and weight gain in adults and older children, this link has not previously been recognized in infants,” said study co-author Susan Redline, MD, MPH, senior physician in the Brigham’s Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders. “We discovered in this study that not only shorter nighttime sleep, but also more sleep awakenings, were associated with a higher risk of infants becoming overweight in the first six months of life.”
Between 2016 and 2018, Redline and colleagues observed 298 newborns born at Massachusetts General Hospital. They then tracked their sleep patterns with ankle actigraphy watches, which measure activity and rest patterns over multiple days. At one and six months, researchers collected three nights’ worth of data while parents kept sleep diaries, recording their children’s sleep and wake episodes.
Scientists measured infant height and weight, as well as their body mass index, to collect growth data. Infants were considered overweight if they were in the 95th percentile or higher on the World Health Organization’s growth charts.
Notably, researchers discovered that just one extra hour of sleep was associated with a 26% reduction in infants’ risk of being overweight. Furthermore, infants who woke up less frequently during the night had a lower risk of gaining too much weight. While it is unclear why this correlation exists, scientists believe that getting more sleep promotes routine feeding practices and self-regulation, both of which help to reduce overeating.
The researchers point out that African American individuals and families with lower socioeconomic statuses were underrepresented in their dataset. Furthermore, confounding variables such as breastfeeding duration may have influenced infant growth. The researchers hope to expand this study in the future to examine how sleep patterns affect growth during the first two years of life and to identify key factors that mediate the relationship between sleep and weight gain. They also intend to assess interventions aimed at promoting healthy sleeping habits.
“This study emphasizes the importance of healthy sleep at all ages,” Redline said. “Parents should consult their pediatricians about the best practices to promote healthy sleep, such as maintaining consistent sleep schedules, providing a dark and quiet sleeping environment, and avoiding having bottles in bed.”
As a result, in the prevention and management of childhood obesity, assessments of the “obesogenic” lifestyle, such as dietary and physical activity patterns, must be combined with an accurate assessment of sleep quality and quantity, as well as the potential co-existence of sleep-disordered breathing or other sleep disorders. Many childhood obesity research studies should include sleep as an integral component from the start, rather than as an afterthought.
Although parents and health professionals have meticulously delineated, observed, and quantified normal patterns of activity such as eating or playing, the absence of reliable sleep health data in children is all the more perplexing given that young children spend more time sleeping than any other activity during the 24-hour cycle. As a result, childhood sleep is unquestionably the most forgotten, overlooked, or even actively ignored behavior of the twentieth century. Trends aimed at reducing children’s sleep have emerged and, regrettably, are gaining traction.