Sarah has covered news topics for digital and print publications. She holds a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Nevada.
For parents of a newborn, one of the biggest initial hurdles can be their child’s sleep schedule. While a more regular sleep pattern begins to form between three and 12 months, newborn babies have not fully developed a circadian rhythm that prompts them to feel tired at night instead of the day.
While sleep is crucial in early stages, some children struggle more with sleep patterns than others. A study from Harvard School of Public Health set out to examine how changes in infant sleep may be associated with changes in growth in the first six months of life. Its findings suggest a link between the two, and that the more a newborn sleeps, the less at risk for obesity they may have later in life.
This longitudinal study took place between May 2016 and June 2018 and monitored 298 full-term infants. In addition to attaching a sleep monitor to the infants’ ankles, parents recorded sleep and wake patterns in a sleep diary. They attended follow-up visits when the infants were one, six, 12, and 24 months old, when the infants’ lengths and weights were measured.
Focusing the study on infants in the first six months of life, researchers found that greater increases in nighttime sleep duration and less waking bouts at night were associated with lower odds of becoming overweight in the first six months of life.
While change in daytime sleep duration was not associated with change in the odds of being overweight from one to six months, the study indicated that a one-hour increase in nighttime sleep between months one and six was associated with a 26% decrease in the odds of the infant becoming overweight within the first six month.
Researchers note that while this study identified a link between sleep patterns and weight, that future studies must be conducted to identify causation.
“Once present, obesity is hard to treat, as entrenched behaviors and metabolic forces tend to resist weight loss,” noted researchers.
With the study’s findings, researchers suggest that because infants sleep more than any other activity, that measures should be taken to allow for sufficient sleep in promotion of healthy growth during infancy.
Babies can require up to 17 hours of sleep a day during infancy, and the quality of that sleep is crucial during the early benchmarks of development. Infants engage with sleep in the first months of life more than any other activity, so it’s important for parents to pay close attention to the development happening during that time.