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 their 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 their growth rate can’t be affected by factors in their 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 them from falling or staying asleep, don’t hesitate to check in with their 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 they get. You’ve probably noticed that, just like you, they are more likely to be in a good mood on days that they are 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 them out for the rest of their 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 they get as much sleep as they need – even if they don't always want it – can help your days run a bit more smoothly, too.

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  • “Can lack of sleep stunt your growth?” Kids Health. Nemours Foundation, September 2013. Web.
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