July 17, 2013
Science Daily/University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Poor sleep quality and quantity during pregnancy can disrupt normal immune processes and lead to lower birth weights and other complications, a new study finds. Women with depression also are more likely than non-depressed women to suffer from disturbed sleep and to experience immune system disruption and adverse pregnancy outcomes.
"Our results highlight the importance of identifying sleep problems in early pregnancy, especially in women experiencing depression, since sleep is a modifiable behavior," said Michele Okun, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at Pitt's School of Medicine and lead author of the report. "The earlier that sleep problems are identified, the sooner physicians can work with pregnant women to implement solutions."
Adequate and high-quality sleep, both in pregnant and non-pregnant women as well as men, is essential for a healthy immune system. Pregnancy often is associated with changes in sleep patterns, including shortened sleep, insomnia symptoms and poor sleep quality. These disturbances can exacerbate the body's inflammatory responses and cause an overproduction of cytokines, which act as signal molecules that communicate among immune cells.
"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," added Dr. Okun.
The findings reveal:
· Women with depression and poor sleep are at greatest risk for adverse birth-related outcomes. Cytokine levels may be one biological pathway through which this is accomplished, particularly with regard to preterm birth.
· Any shift in immunity, such as poor sleep and/or depression, could set the stage for increased risk for adverse outcomes.
· At 20 weeks, depressed pregnant women have higher levels of inflammatory cytokines compared to non-depressed women.
· At 30 weeks of pregnancy, differences in cytokines among depressed and non-depressed women were negligible, likely because as pregnancy progresses, levels of cytokines normally increase.