Tell me about your baby’s gut microbiota and I’ll tell you how well it sleeps
Is there a link between our little ones’ sleep and the microbiota in their digestive systems? Might this influence their behavioral development? A Swiss team has just found an answer to these questions.
About this article
“Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”, “Rock-a-Bye Baby”, ““Puff the Magic Dragon”... Every night, you go through your repertoire of lullabies to send your child off to sleep. All in vain. Far from falling asleep, your adorable tot claps its hands and feet, and its wide-open eyes plead to hear you sing. It even seems to want an “encore”! But at what point will your baby finally sleep all through the night? Great news: there are ways to make sure your baby sleeps like a log from dusk to dawn. These solutions seem to involve the gut microbiota, the community of microorganisms in the digestive system, whose composition evolves during the first years of life.
Sleep: bacteria involved from three months
Recent studies carried out on more than 160 infants have shown a link between an infant’s gut flora and its sleeping habits. Infants who slept more during the day had lower gut microbial diversity than those who saved their sleep for nighttime. Moreover, the quality of infants’ nighttime sleep seems to depend on the type of bacteria present in their gut and on the maturity of their gut microbiota. This effect is clear from three months. This is an important discovery, since up till now these links had only been known in adults.
Influence on future behavior
Furthermore, brain activity during sleep at six months appears to vary according to the bacteria in the gut. It also appears to predict gut microbial diversity at one year. In short, sleep and microbiota seem closely connected and develop together over time. Should parents of children who have difficulty sleeping be worried?
On the contrary, the authors of the study reassure us that: “Sleep and gut microbiota can be readily modified. Sleep can be tailored with behavioral interventions through educational and behavioral strategies by the parents. Gut microbial composition can be modified by diet or orally ingested prebiotics and probiotics added to infant formula.”
However, these avenues still need to be validated through clinical trials. So while young parents wait for miracle foods or probiotics that could save their nights – and their voices – it’s important for them to pamper their babies’ gut microbiota. What’s more, antibiotics, which greatly disturb the gut microbiota, should be used even more sparingly.