Extra hour’s sleep lowers obesity risk for newborns
We've seen a number of interesting studies explore the relationship between poor sleep and obesity, with some also tying in other adverse health effects such as hypertension and diabetes. A new paper has investigated this phenomenon in newborns, finding that sleeping soundly during the first few months of life can be an important factor in preventing excessive weight gain during this early formative period.
The authors of this new study set out to plug some of the gaps in our knowledge around how sleep, or lack thereof, can influence physical growth in the first six months of a child's life. While various studies have drilled into the details of this relationship in adults, including some that unearth tissue-level molecular changes in shift-workers, for example, few studies have focused on infants with disrupted sleep patterns.
"While an association between insufficient sleep and weight gain is well-established in adults and older children, this link has not been previously recognized in infants," says study co-author Susan Redline from Brigham and Women's Hospital. "In this study, we found that not only shorter nighttime sleep, but more sleep awakenings, were associated with a higher likelihood of infants becoming overweight in the first six months of life."
Redline and her colleagues came to this conclusion after using ankle-worn watches to track sleep activity in 298 infants, collecting three days' worth of activity and rest data at the one- and six-month marks of their lives. The infants' parents also kept sleep diaries to chronicle their sleep and wake episodes, while body mass index measurements were collected throughout.
The scientists found that each additional hour of nighttime sleep duration between one and six months correlated with a 26-percent decrease in the infant's risk of being overweight. Infants that woke up less during the night also carried a lower risk of weight gain.
There are still many questions the scientists would like to answer to gain further clarity around this relationship between poor sleep and weight gain in infants. There is the possibility that regular sleep promotes healthier feeding habits, but the team notes that there could be other variables at play, such as breast-feeding duration, that contribute to infant growth. They hope to explore these possibilities through a followup study focusing on the first two years of an infant's life.
"This study underscores the importance of healthy sleep at all ages,” says Redline. "Parents should consult their pediatricians on the best practices to promote healthy sleep, like keeping consistent sleep schedules, providing a dark and quiet space for sleeping, and avoiding having bottles in bed."
The research was published in the journal Sleep.