May 2, 2005 -- Bleary-eyed from sleepless nights, new parents often say they'll try nearly anything to help their baby sleep longer. A new study shows the time-honored tradition of swaddling might do the trick.
"In many parts of the world, infants are swaddled to sleep, with their bodies tightly wrapped in tissue cloths, sheets, or light blankets," Patricia Franco, MD, PhD, and colleagues write in the May edition of the journal Pediatrics. The practice is reported to help babies sleep, and the researchers' findings support that idea.
Swaddled Babies Sleep Longer
In a study of 16 infants aged 6-16 weeks, the researchers found swaddled babies sleep longer and are less likely to wake up spontaneously. During the study, the infants spent several hours sleeping unrestrained and several hours swaddled with sandbags and bed sheets wrapped tightly enough to prevent them from moving their arms and legs. All infants were placed on their backs. The researchers found swaddling increases a baby's total amount of sleep as well as nonrapid eye movement (NREM) or light sleep compared with when they were not swaddled.
Swaddling May Reduce Risk of SIDS
While swaddled infants are less likely to wake up on their own, they are more likely to be woken by less intense noise during deep or REM sleep.
The authors say a question for future research is whether this "increased arousability" could help reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Studies have linked SIDS with a decrease in the infant's arousal from sleep.
They say swaddling also may protect against SIDS by "preventing the infants from rolling [onto their stomachs] and from getting their heads caught in loose blankets."
Finally, the researchers suggest parents who place their babies on their stomachs to prevent crying should instead swaddle the babies and place them on their backs. Babies who sleep on their backs have a lower risk of SIDS.
The authors stopped short of recommending swaddling for all babies, saying that more research is needed to evaluate reported complications of swaddling, such as respiratory infections or pneumonia-related deaths.