New mother’s sleepless nights is linked to accelerated aging

Too little sleep in the first six months after birth can add 3 to 7 years to women’s 'biological age'.


Being a new mom means having more sleep troubles. Every time you try to sleep, your baby wakes you up. Undoubtedly, it is a round-the-clock adventure.

Caring for newborn leaves a new mother to spend many sleepless nights. But, while doing so, they are taking years off their life, suggests a new study.

A new study by UCLA scientists suggests that new mothers’ sleep loss is linked to accelerated aging. The study tested 33 mothers during their pregnancies and the first year of their babies’ lives. Scientists analyzed the women’s age by analyzing DNA from blood samples.

They found that a year after giving birth, the biological age of mothers who slept less than seven hours a night at the six-month mark was three to seven years older than those who logged seven hours or more.

Also, mothers who slept less were found to have shorter telomeres in their white blood cells. Shortened telomeres have been linked to a higher risk of cancers, cardiovascular and other diseases, and earlier death.

The study’s first author, Judith Carroll, UCLA’s George F. Solomon Professor of Psychobiology, said, “The early months of postpartum sleep deprivation could have a lasting effect on physical health. 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.”

Sleep duration varies across each participant: from five to nine hours. It was found that more than half of the mothers getting less than seven hours, both six months and one year after giving birth.

Caroll said, “We found that with every hour of additional sleep, the mother’s biological age was younger. I, and many other sleep scientists, consider sleep health to be just as vital to overall health as diet and exercise.”

Co-author Christine Dunkel Schetter, a distinguished professor of psychology and psychiatry at UCLA, said “the study results “and other findings on maternal postpartum mental health provide an impetus for better-supporting mothers of young infants so that they can get sufficient sleep — possibly through parental leave so that both parents can bear some of the burdens of care, and through programs for families and fathers.”

“While accelerated biological aging linked to sleep loss may increase women’s health risks, it doesn’t automatically cause harm to their bodies. We don’t want the message that mothers are permanently damaged by infant care and loss of sleep. We don’t know if these effects are long-lasting.”

The study urges new mothers to take benefit of opportunities to get a little extra sleep, like taking naps during the day when their baby is asleep, accepting offers of assistance from family and friends, and, when possible, asking their partner to help with the baby during the night or early morning.

Journal Reference:
  1. Judith E.Carroll et al. Postpartum sleep loss and accelerated epigenetic aging. DOI: 10.1016/j.sleh.2021.02.002
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