Address sleep disorders before getting pregnant

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A study conducted by researchers at the University of California San Francisco found that pregnant women who’ve been diagnosed with sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and insomnia appear to be at risk of delivering their babies prematurely.

“Compared with women who didn’t have sleep problems, women with insomnia were 30 percent more likely to have a preemie and the odds for women with sleep apnea, a breathing disorder, were 50 percent higher,” and article written by Lisa Rapaport for Reuters said.

We’re not talking about sleep changes due to discomfort or getting up in the middle of the night to urinate. We’re talking about chronic disorders that have been diagnosed by a medical provider.

“Apnea, a potentially serious sleep disorder that involves repeated stops and starts in breathing, has been linked to high blood pressure during pregnancy, which is an independent risk factor for preterm births,” wrote Rapaport. “Obesity and advanced age can make apnea more likely.

“Even though many pregnant women have insomnia at some point, previous studies haven’t offered a clear picture of how this type of sleep deprivation influences the odds of preterm births,” she said.

A baby born more than three weeks before it is due is considered premature. Complications of a preterm baby include breathing problems and chronic lung disease; heart problems and low blood pressure; bleeding in the brain; temperature control problems; gastrointestinal problems; higher risk of anemia; hypoglycemia; and immune system issues.

The National Institutes of Health states that women often push sleep needs to the bottom of the day’s priority list. They say that not only do sleep disorders play a part in preterm births they also contribute to post-partem depression.

And, another article, this one published on, attributed insomnia to a higher potential for needing a cesarean section.

“Research has found that women who get less than six hours of sleep per night during their last month of pregnancy are more likely to have a cesarean section and experience a longer labor than women who sleep for seven or more hours.

“So it’s well worth trying to get as much sleep as possible,” according to the article written by Jodi Mindell.

An average of nine hours per night is what recommends pregnant women sleep during their first trimester. More than that or less than that can cause elevated blood pressure and the complications of preeclampsia.

“Pregnancy-induced high blood pressure is a symptom of preeclampsia, a serious condition that is also linked to excess protein in urine. It typically occurs after the 20th week of pregnancy.

“Un- treated, preeclampsia increases a woman’s risk for life- threatening eclampsia during pregnancy.”

It’s not uncommon for increased hormones, the discomfort of pregnancy and the stress of balancing life issues to disrupt sleep patterns. Tell your OB/GYN about any symptoms you may experience that affect your ability to get a good night’s sleep.

For instance, your sleep partner may notice that you’ve begun snoring or making snorting or choking sounds while you sleep. Those are the first signs of sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can make you feel fatigued and unable to focus. It can also increase blood pressure developing outcomes which we’ve already discussed.

You may develop restless leg syndrome while pregnant, nearly 30 percent of pregnant women do. RLS gives you an overwhelming urge to move your legs to relieve the itchy, burning, creepy-crawly feeling. RLS can keep you awake, so talk to the OB/GYN about how to relieve symptoms.

Many women who have not had a preexisting sleep disorder may develop one during pregnancy.

Being overweight and particularly being obese can increase the risk of sleep issues and other pregnancy complications. So, it’s a good idea to be at a healthy weight before getting pregnant.

Dr. Milena Pavlova, a researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston said, “When sleep disorders do surface during pregnancy, women should discuss symptoms in detail with their doctors.

“Expectant mothers should also make sleep a priority in their schedules. Allow enough time for sleep – the life you save may be your baby’s.”

Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 264-4029 or

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