Background: The objective of this systematic review was to examine for the first time the associations between sleep duration and a broad range of health indicators in children aged 0 to 4 years.
Methods: Electronic databases were searched with no limits on date or study design. Included studies (published in English or French) were peer-reviewed and met the a priori determined population (apparently healthy children aged 1 month to 4.99 years), intervention/exposure/comparator (various sleep durations), and outcome criteria (adiposity, emotional regulation, cognitive development, motor development, growth, cardiometabolic health, sedentary behaviour, physical activity, quality of life/well-being, and risks/injuries). The quality of evidence was assessed using the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) framework. Due to high levels of heterogeneity across studies, narrative syntheses were employed.
Results: A total of 69 articles/studies (62 unique samples) met inclusion criteria. Data across studies included 148,524 unique participants from 23 countries. The study designs were randomized trials (n = 3), non-randomized interventions (n = 1), longitudinal studies (n = 16), cross-sectional studies (n = 42), or longitudinal studies that also reported cross-sectional analyses (n = 7). Sleep duration was assessed by parental report in 70% of studies (n = 48) and was measured objectively (or both objectively and subjectively) in 30% of studies (n = 21). Overall, shorter sleep duration was associated with higher adiposity (20/31 studies), poorer emotional regulation (13/25 studies), impaired growth (2/2 studies), more screen time (5/5 studies), and higher risk of injuries (2/3 studies). The evidence related to cognitive development, motor development, physical activity, and quality of life/well-being was less clear, with no indicator showing consistent associations. No studies examined the association between sleep duration and cardiometabolic biomarkers in children aged 0 to 4 years. The quality of evidence ranged from "very low" to "high" across study designs and health indicators.
Conclusions: Despite important limitations in the available evidence, longer sleep duration was generally associated with better body composition, emotional regulation, and growth in children aged 0 to 4 years. Shorter sleep duration was also associated with longer screen time use and more injuries. Better-quality studies with stronger research designs that can provide information on dose-response relationships are needed to inform contemporary sleep duration recommendations.
Keywords: Adiposity; Cardiometabolic health; Cognitive development; Emotional regulation; Growth; Infants; Injuries; Motor development; Newborns; Physical activity; Preschoolers; Quality of life; Sedentary behaviour; Toddlers; Well-being.