Development of Sleep Regulation

Sleep rhythm in infants and young children is the core interest of our research lab. How are newborns starting to develop a rhythm of sleep at night and wake during the day? Which factors support the regulation of healthy sleep? Which factors counteract the development of sleep regulation? To discover answers, we investigate the relationships between sleep rhythm, nutrition, family context and their dynamics across the early period of the human lifespan.

Visionary statement: We hope to improve understanding of sleep-related risk factors for brain development. It is our vision that the identification of sleep-related risks in early life finds translation into novel approaches to ultimately reduce developmental disorders and improve mental health.

Research:  Across the first years of life the human brain experiences its greatest anatomical and functional modifications. These are closely reflected in the electroencephalogram (EEG) recorded during sleep. We increasingly understand how neuronal maturation processes are linked to sleep behavior. It is still unclear however, i) which parameters of infant sleep behavior represent a health risk for brain development and ii) whether early sleep patterns are a trait and thus persist throughout later life. Further, iii) the relationship between sleep and the gut bacteria remains understudied. Gut bacteria are increasingly recognized as a health marker, they evolve rapidly throughout the first months of life and seem to be linked to brain plasticity and behavior.

Methods: Our studies take place in the larger areas of Fribourg and Zurich. We are using creative family-friendly methods to record sleep in infants (and sometimes also parents) at their own homes. Methods include high spatial resolution electroencephalography during sleep (brain activity), actimetry (movement sensors), neurodevelopment (behavioral testing), 16S rRNA (gut microbiota), sleep diaries and questionnaires (general health).

Funding: Swiss National Science Foundation (Eccellenza Professorial Fellowship), University of Zurich (Faculty of Medicine, Forschungskredit PostDoc, Foundation for Research in Science and the Humanities); Previous Funding: University of Zurich (Sleep & Health, Clinical Research Priority Program), Swiss National Science Foundation, Jacob’s Foundation, Olga Mayenfisch Foundation, EMDO Foundation