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Children Sleep Differently based on Genes and Environment

Update Date: May 28, 2013 12:13 PM EDT

Getting an infant or child to sleep through the night helps every one in the family. Not only will the children reap the benefits of a good night's rest, the parents would also be able to sleep longer without interruptions. Several studies have found that a good amount of undisrupted sleep leads to better cognitive abilities the morning after. People who sleep better tend to be more alert and energetic, which can help them get through the day. In a new study, researchers discovered that genes might play a huge role in how determining how long babies and toddlers sleep. In terms of naptime, however, environment plays a larger role in determining how long children sleep.

The research team, headed by Evelyne Touchette from Laval University in Quebec, Canada, followed nearly 1,000 Canadian twins with 400 of them being identical twins. The researchers monitored their sleeping habits at night and during the day from the age of six months until the babies turned four-years-old. The team found that for children between the ages of 30 months and four-years-old and the age of six months, genes explained the variance behind the hours of sleep they got each night. Some toddlers were able to sleep longer than others based on their genes. The one exception was at 18 months, in which the researchers found that environment played a large role in determining how many hours the children slept. Even though researchers found that genes played a huge role, they believe that parents could still mold sleeping patterns to a certain extent.

"[Parents] should not give up on trying to correct inadequate sleep duration or bad sleep habits early in childhood," Touchette said, according to HealthDay. The team believes that sleep could be controlled in some sense. For example, she found that for some five-month-old babies, feeding them every time they woke up led to less consistent sleep throughout the night. Other recommendations include setting routines and keeping them consistent with activities, such as songs or story time.

The researchers could not determine exactly how much influence the genes and environment have over children's sleep.  Critics of this study report that determining nature versus nurture for children's sleeping patterns is difficult because these two factors are so intertwined that separating them is almost impossible.

The study was published in Pediatrics.

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