Poor sleep a danger to pregnancy

"When you are pregnant, you have to prioritise sleep more than you normally would" ... Dr Leigh Signal.
"When you are pregnant, you have to prioritise sleep more than you normally would" ... Dr Leigh Signal. 

Expectant mum Meg Brooks says she can’t remember the last time she had a full night's sleep.

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

One-third of 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 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 that a change in sleep is normal - but when you’re pregnant, you have to prioritise sleep more than you normally would for the health of yourself and your infant," researcher Leigh Signal said.

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

"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 eight hours a night, with five good nights of sleep a week before becoming pregnant. By late pregnancy, they were missing at least an hour of sleep each night, with only three good sleeps in a week.

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

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

As for Brooks, who has a month to go of her pregnancy, the 34-year-old high school English teacher 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’ve 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.'

- © Fairfax NZ News