Mothers-to-be suffer sleep deprivation
Severity more acute among Korean mothers than in other countries; partners’ support crucial
By Noh Hyun-gi
Korean women are prone to sleep disturbances during the third trimester of their pregnancy and weeks following birth, according to a recent study. Their perceived quality of sleep is significantly lower than pregnant and postpartum women in the United States and Canada.
Medical experts suspect difference in physical features and the stress level of childbearing may explain the marked discrepancy.
More than 96 percent of 689 pregnant or new mothers between the age of 25 and 45 experience deterioration in quality of sleep, or label themselves as poor sleepers, according to the obstetrics and gynecologist department at Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital. More than half of the women suffered from insomnia.
These figures are markedly higher than results of similar analyses in America and Canada; in both demographics around 50 to 60 percent of surveyed women identified themselves as poor sleepers, sleeping less than seven hours a day with disruptions.
Loss of sleep during pregnancy is a universal phenomenon; but the data highlights the experience of Korean mothers. Experts believe that that sleep disorders in the last trimester of the pregnancy arise due to body weight increase and stress as well as changes in hormone levels. Moreover, expansion of the uterus can disturb circulation that can affect the biological clock.
“We can only suspect the factors that derive the difference at this point. A biological physicality ― Asian women have a smaller frame, possibly making pregnancy more straining on the body ― can be a cause. Also, as the dipping birthrate shows, Korean parents face a mountain of worries once they decide to have a family. These may all contribute to the quality of everyday life of the mothers,” said Ko Hyun-sun, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at St Mary’s Hospital.
Ko said the general tips for sleeping well apply ― avoid napping, follow a set schedule for sleep, exercise in moderation, avoid caffeinated drinks.
More importantly, support from partners is crucial to improve sleeping for expectant mothers. In the last month of pregnancy, women wake up at night often to use the bathroom as the enlarged uterus presses on the bladder.
“After waking up at night, it’s hard to fall back to sleep. This maybe the time women stress about the prospects of raising a child,” Ko said. “The best approach is for partners to take the opportunity to offer comfort and encouragement. Instead of brushing off the interrupted sleep as something everyone goes through, one should try to relate to their discomfort.”
Pregnant and postpartum women were found to be at risk of sleep apnea syndrome in which people experience pauses in breathing. The stops can last from 10 seconds up to minutes and may occur up to 30 times an hour. The chronic condition often goes unnoticed both by the doctors and patients, and it can delay fetus growth and even trigger preeclampsia or hypertension associated with pregnancy.
Nearly 25 percent of women showed symptoms of apnea. Obese women, those with body mass index over 30 before pregnancy, are four times more likely to develop sleep apnea than women with average weight. Shin Jong-chul, also a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at St Mary’s stressed that those in the high-risk group must undergo routine screening to prevent complications that can affect their babies.
The most effective way to prevent adverse affects of apnea is to manage weight before planning pregnancy according to Ko. When this is not an option, expectant mothers should watch their weight gain throughout pregnancy
“While this is a preliminary data, we were able to show that Korean mothers suffer from sleep disorders. Our findings can inform future research on more accurate diagnosis for such conditions and their implications on the new born children,” said Ko. The study was published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology.
Conference on good sleep
Poor quality sleep is a malady affecting more Koreans by the year. In a recent Health Insurance Review and Assessment Service report, medical claims for sleep disorders doubled in 2009 compared to 2005. Summer is not a friendly season for insomniacs. As the temperature rises close to 30 degrees Celsius, people become more fatigued from the heat yet the long days prevent sufficient hours of sleep for recovery. This may trigger the vicious cycle of loss of focus, efficiency and mounting stress.
To offer lectures and counseling on healthy sleep, Korean Academy of Sleep Medicine is holding the Good Sleep Fair 2012, an international conference from Aug 30 to Sept 1 in the COEX, southern Seoul.
The second annual event will highlight sleep disturbance in adolescents. Due to rising prevalence of obesity and precocious puberty, more teenagers have difficulty getting sufficient rest. For more information and registration, visit www.goodsleepfair.com.