According to a new study in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, poor sleep quality and quantity during
pregnancy can disrupt normal immune processes and lead to lower birth weights
and other complications.
Women with depression
are also more likely than non-depressed women to suffer from disturbed sleep
and to experience adverse pregnancy outcomes such as preterm birth and low
The good news, says the paper’s lead author Michele Okun, Ph.D.,
assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of
Medicine, is that we can prevent these outcomes by focusing on good sleep
habits early in pregnancy.
Here, we ask Dr. Okun about the relationship between sleep and healthy
pregnancy, and what pregnant women can do to ensure the best sleep possible.
Q: Pregnancy and sleep don’t
exactly seem to go hand-in-hand. Can you
explain to our readers what happens to sleep during pregnancy?
A: One of the main reasons
expectant mothers have trouble sleeping is that they can’t find a comfortable
position, or can no longer sleep on their stomachs as the size of the fetus
grows. Many women also experience an increased heart rate (heart rate increases
during pregnancy to increase blood flow), shortness of breath (an increase in
pregnancy hormones will cause you to breathe more deeply), a frequent urge to
urinate (due to your kidneys working harder and increased pressure on your
bladder), and/or leg cramps, back aches, constipation, or heartburn, all of
which can keep you up at night. Some
women also report having very vivid dreams or nightmares that can make a good
night’s sleep more challenging. Plus,
stress can play a role, too, such as anxiety about becoming a parent or
worrying about your child’s health.
Q: Those are a lot of factors
that can disrupt sleep. I know sleep quality
and quantity are important for all people, pregnant or not, and male or female.
But why is sleep important to pregnant women in particular?
A: There is a
dynamic relationship between sleep and the immune system – this is true for all
people, but as part of
normal pregnancy adaptations, the immune system shifts to protect the growing
fetus. As a result the mother is susceptible to viral infections.
Poor sleep and or depression in early pregnancy can promote chronic
inflammation which can undermine antiviral defenses. Hence, the mother may be
at a further increased risk of serious illness if she is exposed to say the
A good night’s sleep however
helps to lower the risk of pregnancy-related complications such as pre-term
birth and low birth weights.
Q: So what can pregnant women do
to ensure a better night’s sleep?
A: Avoid all alcohol and nicotine, both of which
can harm your baby and make it more
difficult to fall asleep. Nicotine is a stimulant so it can keep you up, and
while alcohol may make you sleepy at first, it tends to disrupt sleep and make
While experts say that pregnant women can consume up to 200 milligrams
of caffeine per day, it’s important to limit caffeine in the afternoon and
evenings to avoid sleep problems later at night. Women can also drink more fluids during the
day and less in the evenings in order to reduce trips to the bathroom during
the middle of the night.
Women can also avoid heavy and spicy meals close to bedtime to avoid
indigestion, though having a light snack before bed can help to avoid morning
For additional information on getting a restful night’s sleep, click
Labels: pregnancy, sleep, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, womens health