A new study conducted by researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles explored the effects that sleep deprivation can have on new mothers.
According to their findings, women are likely to age faster as a result of consistently losing sleep after giving birth. The researchers found that women's bodies can age up to seven years after just six months of an infants’ inconsistent sleep schedule.
“The early months of postpartum sleep deprivation could have a lasting effect on physical health,” said researcher Judith Carroll. “We know from a large body of research that sleeping less than seven hours a night is detrimental to health and increases the risk of age-related diseases.”
Speeding up aging
The researchers had 33 women who had recently given birth participate in the study. They analyzed the women’s blood samples and studied their DNA during their pregnancies and through their first year as mothers to understand how their sleeping patterns impacted their biological age.
The researchers learned that getting seven hours of sleep was the benchmark for poorer health outcomes; women who consistently got fewer than seven hours of sleep aged faster than the women who were sleeping seven or more hours each night. By the six-month check-in, consistently getting fewer than seven hours of sleep per night was linked with speeding up the aging process by as much as seven years.
“We found that with every hour of additional sleep, the mother’s biological age was younger,” said Carroll. “I, and many other sleep scientists, consider sleep health to be just as vital to overall health as diet and exercise.”
Risk of disease also increases
The researchers also learned that these consistent sleep disruptions were associated with a higher risk of disease. Based on an analysis of the participants' white blood cells, getting less sleep after giving birth can make women more vulnerable to cardiovascular disease, cancer, and several other serious conditions.
While the researchers are still unsure whether or not these risks pose a long-term threat to women's health and wellness, they hope these findings emphasize the importance of getting enough sleep after giving birth.
The study results “and other findings on maternal postpartum mental health provide impetus for better supporting mothers of young infants so that they can get sufficient sleep -- possible through parental leave so that both parents can bear some of the burden of the care, and through programs for families and fathers,” said researcher Christine Dunkel Schetter.