Nurses can help prevent obesity in young children by educating parents about good sleeping habits, US researchers have found.
Inadequate sleep and childhood obesity are thought to be linked, with disrupted bedtimes and short periods of sleep previously shown to effect both a child’s development and their parents’ mental health.
“Regardless of what time you put babies to sleep, they wake overnight”
Now, early findings from the study, published in JAMA pediatrics, show that teaching parents about healthy sleeping behaviour can help prevent children from rapidly gaining weight in the first six months of their life and cut the chance of children becoming overweight by their first birthday.
Researchers at Penn State College of Medicine recruited over 250 new mothers and their babies into the study and offered them four home nurse visits and educational material.
The women were randomised into two study groups, half received safety information about sudden infant death syndrome and half were given material about sleep-related behaviours, bedtime routines, improving sleep duration and avoiding feeding and rocking to sleep.
The researchers found that the children of parents who received the sleep training tended to have a consistent bedtime routine, went to bed earlier, slept longer and were better at soothing themselves back to sleep than the other children in the study.
They also discovered that at nine months, infants who were put to bed by 8pm and allowed to self-soothe slept an average of 80 minutes longer than babies whose bedtimes were after 8pm and did not self-soothe.
Lead study author Professor Ian Paul said: “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,” she said. “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.”