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Association between the faecal short-chain fatty acid propionate and infant sleep


The gut microbiota harvests energy from indigestible plant polysaccharides, forming short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that are absorbed from the bowel. SCFAs provide energy—presumably after easily digested food components have been absorbed from the small intestine. Infant night waking is believed by many parents to be due to hunger. Our objective was to determine whether faecal SCFAs are associated with longer uninterrupted sleep in infants. Infants (n = 57) provided faecal samples for determining SCFAs (7 months of age), and questionnaire data for determining infant sleep (7 and 8 months). Linear regression determined associations between SCFAs—faecal acetate, propionate and butyrate—and sleep. For each 1% higher propionate at 7 months of age, the longest night sleep was 6 (95% CI: 1, 10) minutes longer at both 7 and 8 months. A higher proportion of total faecal SCFA as propionate was associated with longer uninterrupted infant sleep.

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The authors would like to acknowledge all the families who participated in the BLISS study, as well as the research staff involved from the Departments of Human Nutrition, Medicine, and Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Otago.



This study was supported by Lottery Health Research, Meat & Livestock Australia, Karitane Products Society, Perpetual Trustees, High Value Nutrition Science Challenge, New Zealand Federation of Women’s Institutes and the University of Otago, with in kind contributions from Heinz Watties, Ltd; and by a fellowship from Karitane Products Society (RWT).

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Correspondence to Anne-Louise M. Heath.

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Heath, AL.M., Haszard, J.J., Galland, B.C. et al. Association between the faecal short-chain fatty acid propionate and infant sleep. Eur J Clin Nutr 74, 1362–1365 (2020).

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