Can lack of sleep stunt growth?

Lack of sleep is one of those things that popular culture believes stunts growth, but like so many other common pieces of wisdom, the truth isn’t so clear.

If Baby doesn’t get enough sleep, will it stunt his growth? 

“Stunted growth,” as defined by the World Health Organization, is a process that happens in the first three years of life, and affects children for the rest of their lives. As children grow older, conditions can still affect growth, but not with the same kind of impact that is possible in the early years. Stunted growth is associated with malnutrition and severe illness.

This means that Baby isn’t likely to have “stunted growth,” but that doesn’t mean that his growth rate can’t be affected by factors in his life. A lost hour of sleep here or there isn’t going to take inches off Baby’s growth, but there is a definite connection between sleep and growth. It’s during the periods between REM sleep that the hormones that control growth are released, so deep sleep is essential as children grow. 

Young children tend to sleep when they need to sleep. On the other hand, while sleep disorders in infants aren’t common, they aren’t unheard of, either. If you’re concerned that your child might be experiencing a sleep disorder that’s keeping him from falling or staying asleep, don’t hesitate to check in with his healthcare provider.

Other connections to lack of sleep

Growth isn’t the only part of Baby that could be affected by the amount of sleep he gets. You’ve probably noticed that, just like you, he is more likely to be in a good mood on days that he is well-rested. More than that, though, a 2015 study suggests that sleep patterns in the first few months of life can predict attention span and behavior problems later in childhood – in this study, specifically around the age of 3 to 4 years old.

In addition, moving into adolescence, and even into adulthood, lack of sleep has been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and depression. Making sure Baby starts to build healthy sleep patterns today could help him out for the rest of his life.

In the end, it’s highly unlikely that a missed nap here or there is going to do much of anything to Baby’s growth. On the other hand, making sure he gets as much sleep as he needs – even if he doesn’t always want it – can help your days run a bit more smoothly, too.


Sources
  • Yair Bar-Haim, et al. “Infant Sleep Predicts Attention Regulation and Behavior Problems at 3-4 Years of Age.” Developmental Neuropsychology. 40(3): 122-137. Web. July 2015.
  • Dean W. Beebe, et al. “Prevalence, Patterns, and Persistence of Sleep Problems in the First 3 Years of Life.” Pediatrics, February 2012. Web.
  • W.H. Daughaday, D.M. Kipnis, Y. Takahashi. “Growth Hormone Secretion during Sleep.” Journal of Clinical Investigation. 47(9): 2079-2090. Web. September 1968.
  • Shaul Dollberg, et al. “Sleep and physical growth in infants during the first 6 months.” Journal of Sleep Research. 19(1 Pt 1): 103-110. Web. 14 October 2009.
  • Michael L. Johnson, Michelle Lampl. “Infant Growth in Length Follows Prolonged Sleep and Increased Naps.” Sleep. 34(5): 641-650. Web. May 1 2011.
  • Peretz Lavie, et al. “The effects of illness on sleep behavior in infants.” European Journal of Pediatrics. 152(1): 15-7. Web. February 1993.
  • L. Plat, E. Van Cauter. “Physiology of growth hormone secretion during sleep.” Journal of Pediatrics. 128(5 Pt 2): S32-7. Web. May 1996.
  • Lia Steakley. “What are the consequences of sleep deprivation?” Scope Blog. Stanford Medical, July 11 2013. Web.
  • “Can lack of sleep stunt your growth?” Kids Health. Nemours Foundation, September 2013. Web.
  • “Child growth indicators and their interpretation.” World Health Organization. World Health Organization, 2016. Web.
  • “Pediatric Sleep Disorders.” Stanford Health Care. Stanford Medicine, 2016. Web.
  • “What Happens When You Sleep?” Sleep Foundation. National Sleep Foundation, 2016. Web.
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