Helping babies to sleep more

Over the last decade, researchers and staff working on Penn State’s INSIGHT study have trained new mothers in skills that — among other things — help newborns sleep more during the night. New research from Penn State’s Center for Childhood Obesity Research (CCOR) shows that second children in these families also slept longer.

New parents often want infants to sleep because the parents are tired, but sleep is critical to health and development. The researchers in CCOR study sleep because it affects whether children develop obesity. Sleep also affects a child’s capacity for emotional regulation and cognitive development. What is more, research shows that sleep deprived parents are more likely to develop depression and be involved in traffic accidents. Infant sleep can be important for the whole family’s health and well-being.

Responsive parenting

The INSIGHT study — an acronym for intervention nurses start infants growing on healthy trajectories — began in 2012 with CCOR researchers training 279 mothers of first-born infants in responsive parenting practices. Responsive parenting involves responding to children in a timely, sensitive, and age-appropriate manner, based on the child’s presenting needs.

In INSIGHT, the mothers were taught how to respond to infant behavior states like fussiness, alertness (feeding and interactive play), drowsiness, and sleeping. The training included several specific recommendations about bedtime routines and responding to nighttime waking.

Children in the INSIGHT intervention group slept longer each night and were more likely to soothe themselves to sleep than children in the control group. Significantly, these children also had lower body mass indices (BMIs) for the first three years of their lives.

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