Findings of a new study suggest that sleep deficit during pregnancy can lead to disruption in normal immune processes, which in turn, can lead to certain complications.

Lack of sleep as well as poor quality sleep can lead to adverse outcomes like lower birth weight, claims the study.

The study, conducted by researchers at the School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, also concluded that depressed women were more likely to suffer from disturbed sleep patterns vis-à-vis their non-depressed counterparts.

Overproduction of cytokines
For the purpose of the study, the researchers analyzed the sleep pattern and cytokine production levels of close to 170 women, both depressed and not depressed. The analysis started at 20 weeks of pregnancy and continued for 10 weeks.

Both men and women need ample, high-quality sleep to keep a robust immune system in place. Pregnancy is known to result in changes in sleep patterns including insomnia symptoms. These changes in sleep patterns lead to an overproduction of cytokines.

The cytokines act as signal molecules and communicate among immune cells and have the potency to attack and destroy healthy cells. Typically, in pregnant women, the cytokines disrupt the spinal arteries leading to the placenta. This condition enhances the chances of certain birth complications like premature birth and vascular diseases.

Pioneering Study
“There is a dynamic relationship between sleep and immunity, and this study is the first to examine this relationship during pregnancy as opposed to postpartum,” Michele Okun, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at Pitt’s School of Medicine and lead author of the study said.

The findings thus support earlier evidence that women who experience adverse pregnancy outcomes tend to have higher inflammatory cytokine concentrations.

“Our results highlight the importance of identifying sleep problems in early pregnancy, especially in women experiencing depression, since sleep is a modifiable behavior. The earlier that sleep problems are identified, the sooner physicians can work with pregnant women to implement solutions,” Okun said.

The study, the first-of-a-kind to have studied inflammatory cytokines, depression and insomnia and their effect on pregnant women, has been published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

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