pregnancy and sleep

Do you know the role sleep plays in your baby’s health while you’re pregnant? (Photo Credit:

Whether you are getting up to go to the bathroom or struggling with heartburn or just too uncomfortable to sleep, there is no question that it can be difficult to sleep when you are pregnant.  But despite these difficulties, getting enough sleep is important to your health, and based on the results of a new study, important to the health of your baby.

The study was conducted by researchers at the Pittsburgh School of Medicine and sought to determine if sleep disruptions during pregnancy increased the presence of inflammatory cytokines and the risk of complications.  Because depression during pregnancy can also cause sleep disruptions, the team also looked at how depression affected the presence of these cytokines and how that impacted the risk for complications.

The study included 170 participants who were 20 weeks pregnant at the start of the study.  The team collected data on each participant’s sleep habits and patterns for 10 weeks.  During that time, each participant’s inflammatory cytokine production levels were also monitored.  The group of participants included some women who were suffering from depression and some who were not.  All the data was then analyzed to determine if there was evidence to support a relationship between disturbed sleep, depression, inflammatory cytokine levels, and pregnancy complications.

The team found that those participants who did not get enough sleep showed signs of increased inflammatory cytokine production and pregnancy related complications.  In those participants who were depressed, this increase was more significant.

In order to understand why this finding is significant, it is necessary to understand the role that cytokines play during pregnancy.  Cytokines are a normal part of the immune system and are important to many pregnancy related processes.  However, when too many cytokines are present they can become destructive and cause damage to healthy cells and tissue.  In all people, this can compromise the immune system’s ability to fight illness and disease.  In pregnant mothers, having too many cytokines can also disrupt blood flow to the placenta, cause premature birth, and result in vascular disease in the mother.  Additionally, excess cytokines can cause depression which in turn compounds the other problems.

These findings underscore the importance of identifying and treating both depression and sleep disorders as early as possible in a pregnancy.  Additional research needs to be conducted to further explore the relationships identified in this study and to expand our understanding of how early intervention can improve overall outcomes.

This study also highlights how important it is for pregnant women to discuss any problems they are having with sleep or depression with their doctor.  Disregarding these problems as pregnancy symptoms can have real consequences for the health of both mother and baby.   Discussing sleep challenges and mood with your doctor ensures that sleep disorders and depression can be diagnosed and addressed and the negative outcomes that these conditions can cause can be mitigated.

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