Poor sleep a danger to pregnancy

16:00, Oct 22 2013

Expectant mum Meg Brooks cannot remember the last time she had a full night's sleep.

But when it comes to interrupted slumber in pregnancy, she is not alone.

One-third of Kiwi women get six hours' sleep or less in late pregnancy - which Massey University researchers say can affect the health and wellbeing of mothers and babies.

New Zealand's biggest study of sleep in pregnancy, E Moe, Mama, followed more than 1000 women through the final trimesters of their pregnancies, collating their sleep patterns.

It found women who had interrupted sleep in late pregnancy were more likely to suffer from depression.

And it revealed that disrupted sleep had an impact on the ease of birth, with women who reported symptoms of sleep disorders more likely to need an emergency caesarean section.


"The data has shown a change in sleep is normal - but when you are pregnant, you have to prioritise sleep more than you normally would for the health of yourself and your infant," researcher Leigh Signal said.

With a month to go until she's due, Brooks, a 34-year-old high school English teacher who is still working, is averaging about six hours a night.

She says she's waking every three or four hours, either to go to the bathroom, check on her daughter Gemma, 22 months, or just jolting awake without knowing why.

She tries to prioritise sleep as much as possible, going to bed about 8.30pm, trying not to check her phone when she wakes in the middle of the night, and napping when Gemma does.

"When I think of how much sleep I have lost, it's quite scary, but I think I'm just used to it - though I do sometimes look in the mirror and think, ‘God, I've aged.'

"I get the occasional craving when I think, ‘Gosh, I'd just like three or four nights when I can go to bed any time I want and wake up any time I want,' but that's a thing of the past.

"My colleagues assure me that, when they're teenagers, that's when you get your sleep."

Broken sleep during pregnancy can put expectant mums at risk of depression and make it harder to give birth, a groundbreaking study has found.

About 15 per cent of non-Maori and 22 per cent of Maori screened during pregnancy had signs of clinical depression. This was "at least" as high as rates of post-natal depression, the authors said. These women had poorer sleep duration, quality, and were more likely to snore.

Researchers also found interrupted sleep had an impact on the ease of birth, with women who reported frequent breathing pauses more likely to need a emergency caesarean section.

"Change in sleep during pregnancy is almost normalised, but what we're trying to find out is how much of a change is OK, and when should health providers be concerned and do something about it," researcher Leigh Signal said.

"We found having shorter sleep, poor quality sleep, and frequently snoring in late pregnancy increases the risk of you being depressed. It is significant."

On average, the women in the study slept about 8 hours a night before becoming pregnant. By late pregnancy, they were missing at least an hour of sleep each night.

Many also reported sleeping either much longer or much less than usual.

This "abnormal," sleep was of concern, as it was linked to health risks including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity, the authors said.

Before pregnancy, women reported getting about five good nights of sleep a week. During pregnancy, this dropped to fewer than three.

And a substantial number of women in the study reported sleep disorders, including sleep apnoea and restless leg syndrome.

"About 80 per cent of women were getting a poorer quality sleep than prior to pregnancy," Dr Signal said.

Colleague Sarah-Jane Paine said good sleep in pregnancy was critical for expectant mothers, and it was hoped maternity carers would address this more in future.

A second stage of the study will follow the women until their babies are aged 3, to see the impact of sleep on the health of both mother and child.


Don't worry if you're late - only 4.2 per cent of babies in the study were born on their due date.

91 per cent of women gave birth in their planned location: 5 per cent were home births, and 86 per cent were in hospital.

A further 6 per cent gave birth in a different hospital than planned, 1.3 per cent had unplanned home births, and 1.7 per cent had unplanned hospital births. Three babies were born in vehicles.

12 per cent of Maori and 16 per cent of non-Maori women needed an emergency caesarean section.

7 per cent of Maori and 11 per cent of non-Maori had an elective caesarean.

The five factors that disturb sleep in late pregnancy are: needing to go to the bathroom, discomfort, pain, baby moving/kicking, too hot/cold.

Plan your day around sleep.

Sleep on your side.

Fairfax Media