The benefits of a good night's sleep are endless (you'll feel well-rested, healthier, more alert, focused and energized) but new research suggests that the importance of some old fashioned shut-eye during your pregnancy could rule out birth complications for baby.
Published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Medicine identified sleep problems in expectant mothers, finding that poor sleep quality and quantity during pregnancy can disrupt normal immune processes and lead to lower birth weights as well as a host of other birth complications in baby.
Lead author of the study, Michele Okun, Ph. D., said "Our results highlight the importance of identifying sleep problems in early pregnancy, especially in women experiencing depression, since sleep is a modifiable behavior. The earlier that sleep problems are identified, the sooner physicians can work with pregnant women to implement solutions."
Study researchers first evaluated all factors that effect pregnancy sleep. Issues like changes in sleep patterns, shortened sleep, insomnia and poor sleep quality overwork the body's inflammatory responses and cause an overproduction of cytokines (which signals communication between immune cells). Researchers noted that even though cytokines are important to pregnancy, an abundance of these cells can attack and destroy healthy cells, causing destruction and of tissue, which affects a pregnant woman's ability to naturally ward of diseases. In some causes, researchers noted, excessive cytokines can disrupt spinal arteries leading to the placenta, cause vascular disease, lead to depression and also cause preterm birth.
Researchers examined 170 women (both depressed and not depressed) at 20 weeks of pregnancy. They analyzed their sleep patterns and cytokine production levels over the course of 10 weeks (until they were 30 weeks pregnant) and found that women with depression and poor sleep are at a greater risk for adverse-birth related outcomes. In these women, their cytokine levels may result in preterm birth. Researchers also found that any sleep in immunity (such as poor sleep and/or depression) could pave the way for an increased risk of birth complications. At 20 weeks, the study authors noted, depressed pregnant women had higher levels of inflammatory cytokines when compared to non-depressed women.
While previous studies (conducted postpartum) showed a higher inflammatory cytokine concentration in women who were diagnosed with preeclampsia and preterm birth. Given the relationship between sleep disruption and immune function, researchers discovered that although infections during pregnancy counted for half of these adverse outcomes in pregnant women, disturbed and disrupted sleep also played a role. Dr. Okun added, "There is a dynamic relationship between sleep and immunity, and this study is the first to examine this relationship during pregnancy and opposed to postpartum."
Do you think that shut-eye is more important during pregnancy?