Experts say there are two bedtime habits that may help babies get more sleep and avoid gaining weight too quickly: earlier bedtimes and self-soothing.
Strong links exist between inadequate sleep and childhood obesity, so researchers wanted to know if an intervention for parents could prevent rapid weight gain in their babies.
If you want your baby to sleep longer and better, put them to sleep earlier.
Participation in the program, Intervention Nurses Start Infants Growing on Healthy Trajectories (INSIGHT), cut in half the incidence of one-year-old infants being overweight. One component of the intervention promotes improving sleep-related behaviors for parents and their infants.
For the study, parents were randomly assigned to one of two groups. Both groups received educational materials and four home nurse visits. One group received obesity prevention education that covered sleep-related behaviors, bedtime routines, improving sleep duration, and avoiding feeding and rocking to sleep. The other group received safety education about preventing sudden infant death syndrome.
Infants of parents who learned bedtime techniques had more consistent bedtime routines, earlier bedtimes, better sleep-related behaviors, and longer sleep during the night than the infants of parents who received the safety training. The sleep-trained infants were more likely to self-soothe to sleep without being fed and were less likely to be fed back to sleep when they awoke overnight.
Infant self-soothing to sleep and early bedtimes are specifically important in prolonging sleep time, the researchers say. At 9 months, babies who were put to bed by 8 p.m. and allowed to self-soothe to sleep slept an average of 80 minutes longer than babies whose bedtimes were after 8 p.m. and did not self-soothe.
“A lot of parents try to keep their babies up longer, thinking that then they’ll sleep longer at night and they won’t wake up,” says Ian M. Paul, professor of pediatrics and public health sciences and lead author of the study published in JAMA Pediatrics.
“We found that’s not true. When parents keep babies up longer, they just sleep less. If you want your baby to sleep longer and better, put them to sleep earlier. Regardless of what time you put babies to sleep, they wake overnight. If we don’t set the expectation that they’re going to be picked up and fed, they learn to soothe themselves back to sleep.”
Difficult bedtimes and short sleep duration have also been shown to negatively affect a child’s development and parents’ mental health.
“It is important to establish good sleep habits early in life for health reasons, including obesity prevention, but also for the emotional health of parents and families,” Paul says. “New parents of infants aren’t thinking about obesity. Our intervention is designed to prevent obesity without having to explicitly talk to parents about their child’s weight.”
Other researchers from Penn State and from the University at Buffalo, Saint Joseph’s University, and the University of Georgia are coauthors of the study. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Children’s Miracle Network at Penn State Children’s Hospital, USDA, and Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute provided funding.
Source: Penn State