NICHD supports several areas of sleep research to understand the process of sleep and identify ways to treat sleep disorders and the conditions associated with inadequate sleep.
NICHD supports and conducts research on different aspects of sleep, from its biological mechanisms to physical and behavioral benefits and risks of too much or too little sleep.
In addition to these research areas, NICHD is studying the socioeconomic factors that affect sleep, as well as how inadequate sleep affects people with chronic health conditions. NICHD also studies sleep and waking mechanisms in infants and factors that help reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and other sleep-related causes of infant death.
Through collaborations with other agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NICHD advances research on sleep and sleep disorders. NICHD also supports research networks to understand sleep within the context of the health of workers, families, and infants.
Institute Activities and Advances
The Child Development and Behavior Branch (CDBB), within the Division of Extramural Research (DER), studies the influences of sleep quantity and quality on the psychological, psychobiological, language, behavioral, physical, and educational development of young people from childhood through young adulthood. CDBB is also interested in the relationship between sleep and social, affective, and cognitive development; aggression and violence; and overall health. CDBB has a corresponding interest in health promotion and health-risk behaviors.
The Population Dynamics Branch (PDB), also in DER, supports research on sleep and circadian rhythms within its mission in demography, reproductive health, and population health. Research includes studies relating sleep and circadian rhythms to demographic events and processes within the context of the long-reaching effects of early-life influences and policy factors (e.g., shift work, school schedules) on health.
DER’s Pediatric Growth and Nutrition Branch (PGNB) studies the relationship between sleep and childhood obesity, specifically the relationship between the duration and/or quality of sleep and children’s eating and physical activity behaviors, as well as energy balance and weight control. The role of the circadian rhythm in both physiological and pathophysiological processes is also of interest.
The Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Branch (IDDB), within DER, supports grants that address sleep disturbances or altered circadian rhythms as part of IDDs or conditions associated with IDDs. These disabilities may include chromosomal disorders, such as Down syndrome and other trisomies, autism spectrum disorders, and genetic syndromes, such as Fragile X syndrome, Rett syndrome, and Cornelia de Lange syndrome. Some genetic conditions (e.g., Smith-Magenis syndrome) are associated with specific disruptions in sleep that can inform studies of normal and abnormal sleep.
DER’s Maternal and Pediatric Infectious Disease Branch (MPIDB) supports research on sleep and sleep disturbances in children, adolescents, and women affected by HIV/AIDS. The treatment of HIV and other infectious diseases often addresses quality of life, including sleep management, and preventing associated health issues, but more research is needed in the area of pediatric HIV and sleep disorders.
The interests of the DER Pregnancy and Perinatology Branch (PPB) fall primarily within two areas: sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) during pregnancy. In SIDS, efforts include research on its causes/etiology, mechanisms of infant sleep-wake cycles, identification of infants at risk, and development and implementation of risk-reduction strategies. For more information, visit the Research section of the SIDS topic. Supported research in SDB has indicated that there is a link between SDB and adverse pregnancy outcomes, such as preeclampsia, preterm birth, and fetal growth restriction. Furthermore, the intermittent hypoxia associated with SDB may lead to changes in the intrauterine environment that predispose offspring to metabolic and cardiovascular disorders.
The Fertility and Infertility (FI) Branch in DER also studies sleep disorders, including those in women with polycystic ovary syndrome, and how these disorders might contribute to metabolic dysfunction.
The National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research (NCMRR) is interested in improving our understanding of the impact of sleep quality during rehabilitation, including the development of research milestones that could lead to improved clinical practice and standards of care. There is a significant need for research that focuses on persons with physical and cognitive disorders and on individuals who develop chronic physical disabilities resulting from traumatic injury or other medical conditions, including stroke, multiple sclerosis, and cerebral palsy. Because sleep disturbances may occur in conjunction with other conditions that are secondary to the primary cause of disability, their potential effects could be difficult to define in relation to a specific medical condition and the overall functioning of the individual.
Researchers in the Section on Neuroendocrinology, within the Division of Intramural Research, investigate the pineal gland and regulation of the hormone melatonin, which is produced by the pineal gland.
Some findings from NICHD research related to sleep and sleep disorders include the following:
- Researchers identify two cell types that produce melatonin in the pineal gland
- NIH-funded researchers identify risk factors for sleep apnea during pregnancy
- Scientists identify molecule that may help control sleep and wake cycles
- High school start times after 8:30 am are associated with later wake times and longer time in bed among teens in a national urban cohort study
- A multimethod, case-controlled study of sleep-wake disturbances in adolescents with spina bifida
- Associations between 24 hour movement behaviours and global cognition in US children: a cross-sectional observational study
- Objective sleep characteristics and cardiometabolic health in young adolescents
- Sleep-disordered breathing among newborns with myelomeningocele
- Asthma-related lung function, sleep quality, and sleep duration in urban children
- A longitudinal study of preschoolers’ language-based bedtime routines, sleep duration, and wellbeing
- Longitudinal associations among asthma control, sleep problems, and health-related quality of life in children with asthma: A report from the PROMIS® Pediatric Asthma Study
- Use of sleep evaluations and treatments in children with Down syndrome
Other Activities and Advances
- The Work, Family, Health, and Well-Being Initiative, supported by PDB, seeks to improve the health and well-being of people in the workplace and families by identifying factors that improve worker performance and family health. The initiative included the Work, Family, & Health Network , which was co-funded by PDB and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct interdisciplinary research on the health and well-being of workers and their families. Although the randomized controlled intervention trial conducted by Work, Family, & Health Network researchers has ended, data analyses are ongoing and the Network created a public access data set for researchers.
- The Pregnancy and Perinatology Branch collaborates with other NIH institutes and other organizations on the Lifestyle Interventions For Expectant Moms (LIFE-Moms) Consortium . Seven clinical centers will conduct trials on lifestyle interventions of overweight and obese pregnant women and collect data on sleep, including schedule, quantity, habits, disorders, and daytime sleepiness.
- PregSource® is a crowdsourcing research project that asks pregnant women to answer questions about their experiences, their health, and (eventually) their babies’ health. The project includes a sleep tracker to gather information on sleep quality and duration during pregnancy.