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University of Iowa researcher studies sleep patterns in new mothers
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Every mom knows that after giving birth, sleep is
a precious commodity; fatigue and emotional fluctuations are part of the
Everyone knows it, but, according to Michael O'Hara, UI professor of
psychology, no one has documented the effect of post-birth sleep patterns
on thought processes and mood.
O'Hara and colleagues did the study, and the results are published in
the September issue of the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology.
The researchers followed 30 women who had just given birth and 28 non-pregnant
women for three weeks. During that period, they kept track of the time
the women went to bed, the occurrence and duration of sleep interruption,
time of morning awakening, morning alertness and naps taken. Memory, attention
and concentration, and motor function were measured in the two groups of
women on three occasions during the study.
O'Hara found that women who had just given birth had more interruptions
in their sleep during the night than did controls, but that they compensated
for it by sleeping later in the morning and by taking naps, especially
during the first week postpartum. Therefore, the overall amount of sleep
per day was the same for both groups. In addition, new moms reported being
as alert as control group women and showed no decrease in memory, attention
"It is important that women find ways to compensate for interruptions
in nightly sleep, but they have to be in a social system that allows it,"
However, getting the same amount of sleep is not the same as getting
quality sleep. Women who had just given birth reported having a depressed
mood one week following birth. This is a commonly reported phenomenon,
called the "blues," and often believed to be due to hormonal
changes. However, O'Hara found that negative mood during the day was directly
associated with duration of nighttime interruptions in sleep and sleep
quality as rated by the women. These findings suggest that sleep quality
plays an important role in mood fluctuations, particularly in the first
week following childbirth.