Sleeping for Two: How Sleep Affects Your Baby’s Development

If you’re pregnant, no one has to tell you that gestating a future human is, well, exhausting. What you may not know is that your sleephow much or little you getaffects more than just you. It also impacts your baby’s growth and development.

This statement isn't meant to scare you into getting more sleep, but if you want to add another reason to spend more time snoozing, this is it: Your baby needs it! Here’s what you need to know:

1. The more you sleep, the better able you are to cope with pregnancy in general.

No kidding, right? If you had sleep issues before you got pregnant, you know the drill: A poor night’s slumber is a recipe for a crabby, cranky next day. If that escalates into insomnia (a chronic inability to either fall or remain asleep), you’re talking about impaired daytime function, fatigue, irritability, mood changes, and even depression.

When you’re gestating a tiny human, those problems can affect him or her, too, for several reasons. One is that, obviously, a sleep-deprived mom-to-be is more likely to have an accident or have increased clumsiness with delayed reactions, or otherwise compromise her own or her baby’s well-being unintentionally. When you’re chronically fatigued, you’re less apt to do good-for-baby things like eat well and exercise. Put simply, when we're exhausted, we sometimes make bad choices.

2. Poor sleep has been linked to serious pregnancy complications.

It’s estimated that 10% of pregnant women suffer from sleep apnea (frequent disruptions of breathing during sleep that can wake you up multiple times per night). Here’s what happens: The continual interruptions of sleep apnea trigger spikes in blood pressure, which in turn reduce the volume of blood pumped by the heart. This may mean that blood flow to the placenta is compromised, potentially compromising good growth. A 2015 study found that the fetuses of women with sleep apnea showed signs of a condition called placental hypoxia—or inadequate level of oxygen in the blood. It’s been implicated in growth delays and fetal distress.

Poor sleep may also inhibit the production of growth hormone (which happens naturally during your sleeping hours). In pregnancy, less growth hormone may also impact fetal growth.

Finally, it’s been well understood scientifically for some time that people who get inadequate amounts of sleep are more likely to gain excess weight, leading to metabolic issues like diabetes. When you’re pregnant, altered, reduced, and inadequate sleep leaves you more vulnerable to developing gestational diabetes. In itself, gestational diabetes can lead to low birth weight and other complications. And while the evidence isn’t completely clear, it may also be linked to your baby’s eventual risk of obesity.

How to Improve Your Sleep-for-Two IQ

Okay, so it’s clear you need to improve your sleep while you’re pregnant as best you can. First off, try not to worry too much about the potential harms. While it’s smart to know the facts, stressing over them can have the opposite effect that you want, which is to rest and relax.

Read "Sleeping for Two: Getting the Rest You Need" for more information on what may be stopping you from getting a good night’s rest. Also practice the best sleep hygiene possible, given the constraints of fluctuating hormones, frequent bathroom trips, and a burgeoning belly:

- Sleep on schedule. Maintain a regular sleep/wake routine, day in and day out.

- Create a bedtime ritual. Do whatever soothes you most, such as having a bath, reading a good book, or listening to meditation tapes for the last hour or so before bed.

- Set up your bed for sleep. Make your bed a sanctuary, not a place for work or worry.

Most importantly, get rest however and whenever you can.

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