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NIH Record - 75th Anniversary - National Institutes of Health

Study Links Sleep Habits, Weight Gain in Babies

Infant dressed in white with white blanket lies on her back sleeping

Quality sleep is beneficial for newborns, as it is for others, NIH-funded study finds.

Photo: MidoSemsem/Shutterstock

Research suggests that newborns can reap some of the same health benefits that others get from consistent, quality shut-eye. The study, published in SLEEP, found that infants who sleep longer through the night and with fewer interruptions may be less likely to become overweight during their first 6 months of life. 

“What is particularly interesting about this research is that the sleep-obesity association we see across the lifespan appears in infancy and may be predictive of future health outcomes,” said Dr. Marishka Brown, director of NHLBI’s National Center on Sleep Disorders Research. Brown noted that, for children, the benefits of better sleep include a reduced risk of developing obesity and diabetes, while supporting development, learning and behavior.

The new research emerged from the Rise and SHINE (Sleep Health in Infancy & Early Childhood) study, supported by NHLBI, NIDDK and the Health Resources Services Administration. 

Researchers observed 298 newborns. For every hourly increase in nighttime sleep, measured between 7 p.m. and 8 a.m., the infants were 26 percent less likely to become overweight. Likewise, for each reduction in nighttime awakening, they were 16 percent less likely to become overweight.

To conduct the study, researchers partnered with mothers who delivered a baby at Massachusetts General Hospital between 2016-2018. The researchers used ankle actigraphy watches to objectively track nighttime movement.

Parents also kept infant sleep diaries and shared insights about activities that could have affected each infant’s sleep pattern or weight. The researchers also took maternal health and sociodemographic considerations into account.

After the first month, researchers found 30 of the infants (10.3 percent of the sample) were overweight. Most reached a normal weight at 6 months. At 6 months, 26 infants were overweight, including 15 who were not previously overweight.  

While more data is needed to observe these potential links and additional impacting factors, the evidence so far suggests that sufficient, consolidated sleep could be a powerful tool in reducing obesity risks early in life.

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