During the first few weeks and months of life, it is understandable that parents are scrambling to just get through each day (let alone each night). It is well-known that enough quality sleep is paramount for a healthy life, but there have not been many studies on the importance of quality sleep for newborns and infants. The Insomnia and Sleep Institute of Arizona works with patients as young as two years old because we understand that good sleep is a foundation for a healthy life. Here, patients have access to unprecedented staffing levels, including a clinical psychologist focused on sleep medicine. We are an outcome-driven facility led by triple board-certified Dr. Ruchir P. Patel, who has been voted “Top Doc” for six consecutive years.

Recently researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital undertook a study that revealed newborns who sleep longer and wake up less often are less likely to be overweight during infancy. Full details of the study can be found in Sleep. According to the authors “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.” Until now.

Sleep and Health from the Beginning

The study found that “shorter nighttime sleep” along with more awakenings were both linked to a baby becoming overweight in the first six months of life. The analysis included 298 newborns born from 2016 – 2018 at Massachusetts General Hospital. These infants’ sleep patterns were monitored via ankle actigraphy watches, which track activity and rest patterns for days at a time. In total, three nights of data were extracted at both the one- and six-month mark of life. Simultaneously, parents kept sleep diaries to keep an eye on sleep and wake patterns and episodes.

Growth measurements were also conducted, including height, weight, and body mass index. An infant was considered overweight if they were at or beyond the 95th percentile according to the World Health Organization growth charts. Interestingly, researchers also discovered that just one extra hour of sleep was linked to an incredible 26 percent decrease in a baby’s risk of becoming overweight. Plus, those who woke up less during the night did not have as high a risk of excess weight gain.

Researchers stress there is no real understanding (yet) of why this correlation is present. However, they suspect that more quality sleep connects to better feeding and self-regulation practices—which can, in turn, reduce the odds of overeating. There were also issues with the study itself, of course.

Different Babies, Different Results?

The authors noticed that infants in lower socioeconomic families as well as Black infants were underrepresented in the analysis. There were also variables that were not well addressed, like how long breastfeeding occurred (if it did), which can play a major role in baby growth. The researchers hope that in the future, this study can be expanded in many ways, including going beyond the first two years of life. Ultimately, they hope it can be foundational in encouraging healthy sleeping habits from the start of life.

“This study underscores the importance of sleep at all ages,” says the researchers. Sleep hygiene practices can and should start in infancy, such as ensuring the sleeping space is cool, dark, and that sleep is as consistent as possible with scheduling. If you are concerned about your child’s sleep, working with a pediatric sleep specialist is the first step. There is no referral necessary to book a consultation at The Insomnia and Sleep Institute, where you will meet with a sleep specialist who can diagnose disorders at your first meeting. Set your child up for success today. Contact The Insomnia and Sleep Institute by giving us a call or simply by completing the online contact form.