Sleep is an important part of one’s life. Aside from soothing and rejuvenating a tired and stressed body and mind, sleep also has many positive impacts on health such as better immunity, metabolism, memory, and cognitive and vital functions.

Lack of sleep has even been associated with serious health problems such as heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. There are recent studies that explored how sleep, or the lack thereof plays a role in the prevention or development of some of these medical conditions.

For one, researchers from Penn State College of Medicine showed how to prevent childhood obesity and rapid infant weight gain by teaching parents bedtime techniques that encourage healthy sleep habits in their infants.

For this study, the researchers used an intervention that involves promotion of improvement of sleep-related behaviours for parents and their infants. A group of parents received education on obesity prevention including sleep-related behaviours, bedtime routines, improving sleep duration and avoiding feeding or rocking the infants to sleep. Another group received safety education on the prevention of sudden infant death syndrome.

The researchers found that compared to those whose parents received safety training, infants of parents who were taught bedtime techniques had more consistent bedtime routines, earlier bedtimes, better sleep-related behaviours and longer duration of sleep during the night.

Further, these infants were able to soothe themselves to sleep, and were more likely to be fed to sleep when they awoke overnight; and that prolonged sleep can be achieved by early bed times and infants’ self-soothing.

The lead author notes that their intervention can be a tool for preventing childhood obesity without talking to the parents about their child’s weight explicitly.

In another study, researchers found that too little or too much sleep can increase the risk for diabetes in men, but not in women.

The result of the study involving 800 healthy adults in 14 European countries showed that men who slept too little or too much had increased chances of impaired ability to break down sugar, and have higher blood sugar levels, which puts them more at risk of diabetes, versus those who were able to sleep for about seven hours each night.

However, while this may be the case, for men, the results did not show the same in women. Women who had the most or the least sleep were seen to be more responsive to insulin, as well as enhanced function of the beta cells.

This study was the first to show how sleep oppositely affects diabetes risk of men and women. MIMS