Study Finds Good Night’s Sleep Can Ease Infant Obesity Risks

Infant height, weight, and body mass index were measured to collect growth measurements, and infants were classified as overweight if they were in or above the 95th percentile on the World Health Organization’s growth charts.

New research from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital found that newborns who sleep longer and wake up less throughout the night are less likely to be overweight in infancy, according to a study published in Sleep.

"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 Susan Redline, MD, MPH, in a press release. "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 6 months of life."

The researchers evaluated 298 newborns born at Massachusetts General Hospital between 2016 and 2018. The babies’ sleep patterns were monitored using ankle actigraphy watches, which are devices that measure patterns of activity and rest over multiple days. The researchers then extracted 3 nights’ worth of data at the 1- and 6-month marks from sleep diaries, in which parents recorded their child’s sleep and wake episodes.

Infant height, weight, and body mass index were measured to collect growth measurements, and infants were classified as overweight if they were in or above the 95th percentile on the World Health Organization’s growth charts.

The results found that just 1 additional hour of sleep correlated with a 26% decrease in infants’ risk of being overweight. Further, infants who woke up less throughout the night faced a lower risk of excess weight gain. The research team estimated that getting more sleep promotes routine feeding practices and self-regulation, which help to ease overeating.

Study limitations include underrepresentation of African American individuals and families of lower socioeconomic statuses in their dataset. Additionally, factors such as breastfeeding duration were not included and could have possibly impacted infant growth, according to the study authors.

The investigators said that future research will evaluate how sleep patterns impact growth within the first 2 years of life and identify key factors that mediate the correlation between sleep and weight gain. This would also analyze interventions for promoting healthy sleep habits.

"This study underscores the importance of healthy sleep at all ages,” Redline said in a press release. "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."

REFERENCE

A Good Night’s Sleep May Mitigate Infant Obesity Risks [email]. Brigham and Women’s Hospital. October 20, 2021. Accessed October 28, 2021.

Related Content