How well you sleep during the last three months of your pregnancy may have a long-lasting effect on your baby’s health, report researchers at the University of Chicago.
“We already knew that sleep problems in infants, children and adults can cause metabolic changes that can lead to insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes,” said David Gozal, M.D., the study’s lead author. “We wanted to see if sleep disruption during pregnancy affected metabolism in the baby over the course of its lifetime.”
To test this in humans could take 50 years, so Dr. Gozal’s team devised an experiment using pregnant mice. They interrupted sleep for half of the mice during days 15 through 19 of pregnancy, the equivalent of the third trimester. Although the offspring seemed normal at first, by the time they were “middle-aged,” the mice born to moms with fragmented sleep were eating more, and their weight started to creep up. A few of the mice became morbidly obese and died long before their unexposed counterpartners.
Offspring from mothers with fragmented sleep also scored poorly on glucose tolerance tests and were insulin-resistant. They had more fat, and that fat produced less of an appetite-suppressing hormone called adiponectin.
Looking at the mice’s genes, researchers found that genes that make adiponectin had been shut down. “This is the first example of a perturbation during pregnancy that translates into a genetic risk in midlife for the next generation,” Dr. Gozal said.
“This is kind of scary,” he added. “Will this generation, the sons of sleep-deprived mice, who are already at increased risk for metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes, transmit this inherited risk, perhaps compounded by new stresses, to their offspring?”
Good reason to do everything you can during these final, uncomfortable months to make sure you sleep well. Keep a quiet, dark, cool room and regular sleep hours. If you have restless legs, make sure you are taking iron. To limit the number of bathroom trips during the night, stop consuming liquids an hour or two before going to bed. And if you are snoring or have developed high blood pressure or gestational diabetes during pregnancy, get checked for sleep apnea. “That’s fairly common during pregnancy and needs to be treated promptly,” Dr. Gozal says.