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Good Sleep May Help Babies Avoid Obesity as They Grow
  • Cara Murez
  • Posted October 22, 2021

Good Sleep May Help Babies Avoid Obesity as They Grow

You've probably heard that getting better sleep can be good for your waistline. The same appears to be true for your baby.

Newborns who get more sleep and wake up less during the night are less likely to become overweight in infancy, according to a just-published study.

"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," said study co-author Dr. Susan Redline, of the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

"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 said in a hospital news release.

The researchers, from Brigham and Women's and Massachusetts General Hospital, reported that just one more hour of sleep at night correlated with a 26% decrease in a baby's risk of being overweight. Those who woke less during the night also had a lower risk of excess weight gain.

The reason could be that better sleep promotes routine feeding practices and self-regulation, both of which can prevent overeating, the authors said.

For the study, the investigators observed nearly 300 newborns born between 2016 and 2018.

They then monitored the infants' sleep patterns using ankle devices that measure patterns of activity and rest over several days. The team obtained three nights' worth of data at 1 and 6 months. Parents also kept sleep diaries, noting when their infants woke and slept. The researchers calculated baby body mass index (BMI) using height and weight measurements.

"This study underscores the importance of healthy sleep at all ages," Redline said. "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."

Other factors that could have affected babies' growth include how long they were breastfed.

One limitation of the study is that Black people and poorer families were underrepresented, researchers said.

They plan to further investigate how sleep patterns affect growth in the first two years of life. They also hope to identify other factors that may affect sleep and weight gain, and evaluate ways to promote healthy sleep.

The findings were published Oct. 21 in the journal Sleep.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers safe sleeping tips for your baby.

SOURCE: Brigham and Women's Hospital, news release. Oct. 22, 2021

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