WESTCHESTER, Ill.—October is National Campaign for Healthier Babies Month, an initiative devoted to promoting prenatal care for and awareness of healthy lifestyle choices among pregnant women. One of the best gifts an expectant mother can give to her future baby is nine months of a healthy pregnancy. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) says that one of the ways for expectant mothers to help give their baby a better chance of a healthy and full-term birth is to practice good sleep hygiene.
Jodi A. Mindell, PhD, a professor of psychology at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, and associate director of the Sleep Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, says that most pregnant women struggle with sleep problems, and that these problems don’t just start in the third trimester.
“Thanks to surging hormones, sleep disturbances may begin right at the start of pregnancy,” says Dr. Mindell. “That means that many women may experience nine long months of problems sleeping. Pregnant women are frequently told that it is just part of pregnancy and they must deal with it. Usually the most sympathy they receive is a comment from friends and family, ‘just wait until you have the baby, then you’ll know what lack of sleep means’.”
Not getting enough sleep can affect every aspect of a woman’s life, notes Dr. Mindell, adding that studies have shown that it affects mood, performance, parenting ability and health. In addition, Dr. Mindell points out, being sleep deprived can have dangerous, consequences, including drowsy driving and accidental injuries.
According to Dr. Mindell, sleep problems change as pregnancy progresses.
“During the first trimester, women often experience frequent waking at night, often related to frequent trips to the bathroom during the night and nighttime nausea,” says Dr. Mindell. “Other issues that some pregnant women face in the early days of pregnancy include overwhelming daytime and evening fatigue and an increased need for nighttime sleep. During the second and third trimester, a growing belly can make for a hard time finding a comfortable sleeping position, and heartburn, back pain and leg cramps can all disrupt sleep.”
Dr. Mindell warns that a sleep disorder may develop or worsen during pregnancy, including insomnia, restless legs syndrome, and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA, the most serious of these sleep disorders, can increase the risk of preeclampsia and hypertension, notes Dr. Mindell.
New research presented at SLEEP 2007 sheds light on pregnant women and sleep:
- Pregnancy is associated with a larger predominance of restless legs syndrome with the general population.
- Women starting a family later in life are more likely to have established careers and more restricted sleep schedules. Older women are more likely to be working late in pregnancy, spend less time in bed and obtain less sleep, although their sleep is more consolidated than that of a younger woman. Older women’s subjective experience of insufficient and disrupted sleep has implications for the growing group of older childbearing women.
- Risk for a sleep-related breathing disorder among infants and toddlers born prematurely may be higher than among those born full-term. Consistent with the poor growth found in children with a sleep-related breathing disorder, prematurely born infants and toddlers at risk for snoring and a sleep-related breathing disorder also have a lower current body weight independent of age.
- Children with prenatal cocaine exposure are more likely to have a sleep problem, and may also experience behavior and cognitive effects.
Dr. Mindell says that keeping good sleep habits is especially essential when a woman is pregnant. On behalf of the AASM, Dr. Mindell offers the following sleep hygiene tips for all moms-to-be:
- Maintain a consistent sleep schedule.
- Make your bedroom dark, cool and comfortable.
- Sleep on the left side, which is best for the developing baby.
- Don’t clock-watch.
- Don’t stay in bed and try to sleep. If, in 10-15 minutes, you are struggling to fall asleep, get up and move to another room and do something distracting, but not stimulating. Read or perhaps listen to soft music.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
- Allow yourself time to unwind before bed.
Not sleeping well can lead to a number of problems. Expectant mothers who have poor nighttime sleep are more likely to have a depressed mood, attention and memory problems, excessive daytime sleepiness, more nighttime falls, and use more over-the-counter or prescription sleep aids, all of which may adversely affect the healthy development of her baby. In addition, recent studies associate lack of sleep with serious health problems such as an increased risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Those who think they might have a sleep disorder are advised to consult with their primary care doctor or a sleep specialist.
For a listing of AASM-accredited facilities in your area, visit www.SleepCenters.org.
AASM is a professional membership organization dedicated to the advancement of sleep medicine and sleep-related research.
To arrange an interview with an AASM spokesperson, please contact Jim Arcuri, public relations coordinator, at (708) 492-0930, ext. 9317, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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