Sleep plays a vital role in keeping us healthy. A new study highlights the importance of sleep for newborns. The study suggests that newborns who get more sleep and wake up less throughout the night are at lower risk of being overweight.
Study co-author Susan Redline, MD, MPH, senior physician in the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at the Brigham, said, “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. 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.”
For this study, scientists observed 298 newborns born at Massachusetts General Hospital between 2016 and 2018. They then monitored their sleep patterns using ankle actigraphy watches — devices that measure patterns of activity and rest over multiple days. Researchers extracted three nights’ worth of data at the one- and six-month marks while parents kept sleep diaries, recording their children’s sleep and wake episodes.
Growth measurements were taken by measuring infant height and weight and determining their body mass index. Infants were classified as overweight if they fell into or above the 95th percentile on the World Health Organization’s growth charts.
It was found that just one hour of additional sleep is linked with a 26 percent decrease in infants’ risk of being overweight. Such infants are found to face a lower risk of excess weight gain. While it’s unclear exactly why this correlation exists, scientists speculate that getting more sleep promotes routine feeding practices and self-regulation, factors that mitigate overeating.
Redline said, “This study underscores the importance of healthy sleep at all ages. 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.”
- Li, X et al. “Longitudinal association of actigraphy-assessed sleep with physical growth in the first 6 months of life.” Sleep DOI: 10.1093/sleep/zsab243