A new study from the University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA) found that sleep deprivation among new mothers is linked to accelerated aging.
Scientists studied 33 moms during their pregnancies and the first year of their babies’ lives and then they analyzed DNA from blood samples to determine the women’s age.
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, the scientists report.
Mothers who slept for less than seven hours had shorter telomeres in their white blood cells. These small pieces of DNA at the ends of chromosomes act as protective caps. Telomere shortening has been associated with an increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other disorders, as well as earlier death.
“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,” said the study’s first author, Ms. Judith Carroll, UCLA’s Mr. George F. Solomon Professor of Psychobiology.
Scientists urged new mothers to take advantage of opportunities to get 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.
Ms. Christine Dunkel Schetter, co-author, a distinguished professor of psychology and psychiatry at UCLA added that 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 to be that mothers are permanently damaged by infant care and loss of sleep,” she emphasized, “we don’t know if these effects are long-lasting.”