Sleep Loss Following Childbirth May Result in Accelerated Aging For New Mothers

Study suggests that lack of sleep in the first 6 months following childbirth can add between 3 and 7 years to the mother’s biological age.

The sleep loss experienced by new mothers has been associated with accelerated aging, according to a study published in Sleep Health. The study suggests that a lack of sleep in the first 6 months following childbirth can add between 3 and 7 years to the mother’s biological age.

The investigators analyzed 33 mothers during their pregnancies and the first year of their babies’ lives, examining the women’s DNA from blood samples to determine their biological age, which can differ from chronological age. According to the investigators, the biological age of mothers 1 year after giving birth who slept less than 7 hours a night at the 6-month mark was 3 to 7 years older than those who logged 7 hours of sleep or more.

“The early months of postpartum sleep deprivation could have a lasting effect on physical health,” said Judith Carroll, PhD, George F. Solomon Professor of Psychobiology at UCLA, in a press release. “We know from a large body of research that sleeping less than 7 hours a night is detrimental to health and increases the risk of age-related diseases.”

Mothers who slept less than 7 hours were also found to have shorter telomeres in their white blood cells. Shortened telomeres have been linked to a higher risk of cancers, cardiovascular and other diseases, and earlier death.

According to the investigators, although the participants’ nightly sleep ranged from 5 to 9 hours in total, more than half were reporting less than 7 hours of sleep on average, both 6 months and 1 year following birth.

“We found that with every hour of additional sleep, the mother’s biological age was younger,” Carroll said in the release. “I, and many other sleep scientists, consider sleep health to be just as vital to overall health as diet and exercise.”

Carroll urged new mothers to take advantage of opportunities for extra sleep, including daytime naps when their baby is asleep, accepting assistance from family members and friends, and asking their partner to assist with the baby if possible.

The study authors said that the cohort analyzed, containing women ranging in age from 23 to 45 years of age 6 months after birth, was not a large representative sample, and more studies will be required to better understand the long-term impact of sleep loss on new mothers. Further, there may be other factors contributing to sleep loss and it is not yet known if the biological aging is permanent.

We don’t want the message to be that mothers are permanently damaged by infant care and loss of sleep,” said Christine Dunkel Schetter, PhD, in the release. “We don't know if these effects are long lasting.”

REFERENCE

New mothers’ sleep loss linked to accelerated aging [news release]. EurekAlert; August 5, 2021. Accessed August 16, 2021. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/924542