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Sleep isn’t just important for adults. Newborn babies and infants sleep about sixteen hours a day, and that sleep is crucial for early brain development. Infants who are at risk of facing neurodevelopmental challenges sometimes have health factors which lead to sleep disorders, which in turn hinders healthy neurological development. To help combat these compounding health risks, a new University of Michigan Medicine study is seeking to find just how early sleep disorders can be detected in infants.

The study has been published in The Journal of Pediatrics. Lead author Renée Shellhaas, M.D., M.S., a pediatric neurologist at the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital says the study could open new avenues for treatment for infants suspected of having sleep disorders:

We may have early and important opportunities to provide sleep interventions that may have a real impact on these children’s general health and their development. We think that gaining a better understanding of newborn sleep may be incredibly meaningful for families who are impacted by significant illnesses in their infants.

The study looked at infants with a variety of developmental challenges, the most common of which was spina bifida. Infants with spina bifida are at much higher risks of developing sleep disorders than those without due to abnormalities in the brain stem. Over time, these sleep disorders can compound the neurodevelopmental difficulties associated with the condition. By diagnosing sleep disorders as early as possible, medical researchers might be able to find ways to treat them before they lead to further neurological complications.

This study builds on a growing body of research which has found links between sleep health and overall brain health. Recently, studies have found that poor sleep quality can be an indicator of several serious neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss. Could diagnosing sleep disorders early be an effective prevention for neurological conditions?

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