New mothers' lack of sleep can add up to seven years to their biological age
Feeling like having a baby has aged you ten years?
You might actually be (almost) right.
According to a new study, lack of sleep in the first six months after having a baby can add up to seven years to the biological age of new mothers, and – more worrying – the researchers found that not getting enough sleep during this time can also leave mothers more susceptible to cancer and cardiovascular disease.
The UCLA study, which was published in the journal Sleep Health, involved following 33 mothers during their pregnancies and the first year of their babies’ lives, saw scientists analysing their DNA to determine their ‘biological age’, which can differ from chronological age.
A year after giving birth, the biological age of those 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 researchers found that mothers who slept less than seven hours also had shorter telomeres, or pieces of DNA, in their white blood cells.
The problem? This has been linked to serious health problems, said the study in the journal Sleep Health.
"Sleep health is just as vital to overall health as diet and exercise," says lead author Professor Judith Carroll, of the University of California in Los Angeles.
‘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."
While participants’ nightly sleep ranged from five to nine hours, more than half were getting less than seven hours - both six months and one year after giving birth, the researchers found.
Take every opportunity to sleep
And while we know the old 'sleep when the baby sleeps' advice can be almost impossible to do for most new mothers (I mean – when are we meant to take showers or do laundry?), the advice from the experts really is to try to get some sleep whenever the opportunity presents itself.
Speaking to The Daily Mail, Prof Carroll with the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at UCLA’s Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behaviour, urged new mothers to take advantage of opportunities to get a little extra sleep.
"Take naps during the day when their babies are asleep, accepting offers of help from family and friends, and when possible, asking their partners to help with the baby during the night or early morning."