November 23, 2007
New Moms Who Lack Sleep Gain Weight

Some people think women need to go on diets after giving birth in order to take off weight gained while pregnant. But the weight gained while pregnant might not be the biggest problem. Time taken to care for babies might cause a state of sleep deficiency that causes weight gain.

Mothers who reported sleeping five hours or less per day when their babies were six months old had a threefold higher risk for substantial weight retention (11 pounds or more) at their baby’s first birthday than moms who slept seven hours per day, according to a new study by Kaiser Permanente and Harvard Medical School / Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.

The study, published in the November issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology, is the first to look at the impact of sleep deprivation on postpartum weight retention. Previous studies have looked at the effect of early postpartum sleep deprivation on mothers’ cognitive and emotional health but never associated weight gain.

“We’ve known for some time that sleep deprivation is associated with weight gain and obesity in the general population, but this study shows that getting enough sleep – even just two hours more – may be as important as a healthy diet and exercise for new mothers to return to their pre-pregnancy weight,” said Erica P. Gunderson, PhD, an investigator at the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland and the lead author of the study.

This result is consistent with other studies which find sleep deficiency promotes weight gain. The interesting twist on this study is that the stereotype of women losing their figures when they have kids might be explained by lack of sleep rather than by a permanent change in their metabolism caused by pregnancy.

What to do about it? Babies are oblivious to the needs of their mothers and some babies wake up a lot in the middle of the night.

The lack of sleep is stressful and increases disease risks.

The study also found that mothers who slept fewer hours at one year postpartum than they did at six months postpartum had twice the risk of substantial weight retention. Other studies have shown that persistent sleep deprivation causes hormonal changes that may stimulate appetite. Shorter sleep duration has not only been linked to obesity in women, but coronary artery disease and diabetes as well.

Some research backs up the idea of letting babies cry themselves to sleep.

Mothers who learn to let their babies cry themselves to sleep have better nights and suffer less postnatal depression, research suggests.

A report in the British Medical Journal found that teaching mothers "controlled crying" techniques significantly reduced sleep problems.

Another method is called core night. See some other techniques for getting babies to sleep/.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 November 23 11:04 PM  Brain Appetite

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