Mothers who don’t get enough sleep age more rapidly, study finds
Lack of sleep could have consequences for mother’s health
Getting a good night’s rest is one of the most important things you can do for your health. For mothers who recently gave birth, lack of sleep could accelerate aging, new research suggests.
A study of 33 mothers found that women who got less than seven hours of sleep six months after giving birth aged more rapidly biologically than women who slept more than seven hours. A year after giving birth, the mothers who reported sleeping less were actually biologically older by three to seven years.
“Even though lack of sleep is so common it’s considered normal for mothers of infants, that ‘normal’ lack of sleep could still be having a cost on mom’s health,” said Dr. Kharah Ross, an assistant professor of health psychology with Athabasca University’s Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.
Ross co-wrote the study with colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where she was a postdoctoral researcher prior to coming to AU, and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
“Even though lack of sleep is so common it’s considered normal for mothers of infants, that ‘normal’ lack of sleep could still be having a cost on mom’s health.”– Dr. Kharah Ross, assistant professor of health psychology
Determining the mothers’ biological ages
Chronological age is based on how long a person has been alive whereas biological age is determined by analyzing biomarkers at the cellular level. In the study, the research team compared data from the mothers with five distinct estimates of epigenetic age acceleration. Epigenetics is the study of how behaviours and environment can cause changes to the way genes function.
The study found that more than half of the mothers reported insufficient sleep during post-birth visits at six months and one year. This was due to either poor sleep quality or short sleep duration, mainly attributed to frequent night infant awakenings and feedings.
Findings hit home for AU learner and mother
AU Bachelor of Arts in Psychology learner Megan Maksym, a single mother to twin boys, understands just how important sleep is. While she has suffered from sleep issues her entire life, she estimates that she got about four hours a night when her boys were infants.
“I never napped when they did. As a single mom, I just didn’t have time to do that,” said Maksym, who was not involved in the study. “I’d be curious to know what my biological age actually is!”
Maksym says she recognizes the importance of sleep to her health. “Running on the flight-or-fight and minimal sleep will absolutely catch up to me. It is just a matter of time.”
With a small sample size, the research team recognizes the need for more study.
Ross said that even though lack of sleep postpartum is often considered “normal” for mothers, families and clinicians should be aware of the potential impact on health.
“If mothers, and parents, are having a hard time with sleep after having a baby, they can and should talk to their doctor or other health practitioners about it.”
“If mothers, and parents, are having a hard time with sleep after having a baby, they can and should talk to their doctor or other health practitioners about it,” Ross advises. “They might have some strategies that could help.”
The study was published in August in the peer-reviewed journal Sleep Health.