Research Proves a Direct Link Between Sleep and Weight in Infants

This article takes a closer look at a study that revealed a direct link between poor sleep quality in infants aged 1-6 months and an increased risk of obesity.
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Last updatedLast updated: September 06, 2022
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Babies who sleep throughout the night for a sustained period with fewer waking or disturbances could well be more likely to stay within ‘average’ weight ranges within the first six months. The study, published by a SLEEP journal, is significant because it does not highlight a direct cause-effect link. It shows an important connection between sleep quality and weight in a younger age group, something previously only seen in studies with adults. Trusted Source Short Sleep Duration and Weight Gain: A Systematic Review | Obesity Society Over the past several decades, the prevalence of obesity has grown to epidemic proportions. Concurrent with this rise in weight there has been a similar epidemic of chronic sleep deprivation. onlinelibrary.wiley.com

Research That Could Boost the Healthy Development of Children

This kind of study is essential in so many different ways. Particularly because, as mentioned above, there is a strong link between adult obesity and weight gain and low sleep quality, but this was not previously associated with adults. Because the study indicates that the association with low quality sleep and obesity could start much earlier in life, health outcomes could even be predicated in the future from certain logged behaviors in infancy. Conversely, boosting the sleep health of babies could provide a better forecast for their future health, lowering their risk of becoming obese and diabetic

What the Rise & SHINE Study Involved

The study is being completed by a study called Rise and SHINE (SHINE stands for Sleep Health in Infancy & Early Childhood). It is a lengthy five-year-long study supported partially by the NHLBI (National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, a department of the National Institutes Of Health).

Within the study, 298 newborns are being observed and for every hour of sleep added at any time between 7 PM and 8 AM, the infants were a huge 26% at lower risk of being overweight during their first six months to live. In fewer instances of waking up in the night or sleep disturbances, they were seen to have a 16% reduction in the chance of being overweight within that time.

On average, a baby who had 8.8 hours sleep per night on average by the end of the research period with minimal nighttime disturbances was less likely to be overweight during those formative first six months.

Thirty of the infants in the study came under the underweight category initially, but 21 of those settled into a ‘normal’ weight by six months. By that six-month mark, nearly 9% of the infants were overweight, with 15 babies within that percentage starting the study at a normal weight, reaching an overweight average by the end.

These insights were captured by the researchers who were able to team up with mothers who gave birth to a baby between the years of 2016 and 2018. Previous studies that have monitored infant sleep have often solely relied on parental reports on the babies’ sleep activities. This time, though, more accuracy was achieved via the use of a piece of apparatus called an ankle actigraphy watch. This piece of apparatus provides completely objective data on the baby’s movement, and they were used for one month of the baby’s life for three nights and then again for three nights at the six-month mark.

Sleep diaries were also provided by the parents of the babies, including information on breastfeeding, solid food eating, bottle feeding regularity and times, and general sleep pattern and weight information.

This data was assessed using the WHO’s (World Health Organisation) growth charts Trusted Source Child growth standards | World Health Organization The site presents documentation on how the physical growth curves and motor milestone windows of achievement were developed as well as application tools to support implementation of the standards. www.who.int which provide a guideline on the weight of infants depending on their age and sex. If the babies in the study were at any point over the 95th percentile on the charts for their sex, weight, and length, they were considered overweight. Maternal health, sociodemographic factors, and other considerations were made when the data was analyzed.

Observations and Insights into the Future

Leading researcher Susan Redline – a head physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Professor of sleep medicine at Harvard – suggested that lots of different factors came into play with the results of this interesting study. One observation is that providing milk for comfort during the night both disturbs the child’s sleep and contributes to weight gain. Of course, as leading medical organizations state Trusted Source Helping your baby to sleep | NHS Tips to help your baby sleep, including what to expect, establishing a routine, and safe sleeping. www.nhs.uk , it is normal for a newborn to require feeding through the night; this kind of sleep disturbance can be unavoidable, but how much is normal remains individual to the baby. Most parents can recognize if their baby has had a good or a bad night’s sleep within normal feeding patterns.

A baby that is grumpy the day after a bad night’s sleep may also be prone to eat more, just like adults, which could have also contributed to the weight gain of the babies.

Overall, the study gave a great insight into the sleep quality needed for a child to get the best possible health prospects as they age. In particular, for a baby to have a great chance of avoiding obesity and the risks connected to obesity, great sleep is essential, amongst other actions provided by trusted healthcare providers like your doctor.

References

1.
Short Sleep Duration and Weight Gain: A Systematic Review | Obesity Society
Over the past several decades, the prevalence of obesity has grown to epidemic proportions. Concurrent with this rise in weight there has been a similar epidemic of chronic sleep deprivation.
2.
Child growth standards | World Health Organization
The site presents documentation on how the physical growth curves and motor milestone windows of achievement were developed as well as application tools to support implementation of the standards.
3.
Helping your baby to sleep | NHS
Tips to help your baby sleep, including what to expect, establishing a routine, and safe sleeping.
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