Insomnia linked to premature birth in study of 3 million mothers

Babies born prematurely are at higher risk for some health problems.

Despite strides in maternal medicine, premature birth remains a vexing problem for obstetricians worldwide. But an analysis of medical records from almost 3 million pregnant women in California1 suggests that a surprisingly simple intervention — better sleep — might help to address the issue.

Researchers found that women who had been diagnosed with insomnia or sleep apnoea were about twice as likely as women without sleep disorders to deliver their babies more than six weeks early.

“It seems obvious, but strangely this study has not been done before,” says Laura Jelliffe-Pawlowski, an epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), and an author of the research, which was published on 8 August in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology1. “Seeing this relationship is important because we are just starved for interventions that can make a difference.”

Public-health experts say that better treatment for pregnant women with serious sleep disorders could save babies’ lives, and do so with approaches that avoid the use of medication. Every year, 15 million babies worldwide are born prematurely — more than three weeks before the typical full-term pregnancy of 40 weeks. These children have less time to develop in the womb, and 1.1 million will die from birth-related complications. Many others are left with hearing impairment, learning disabilities, cerebral palsy and other health issues.

The new study is part of the UCSF Preterm Birth Initiative, an ambitious US$100-million effort to study prematurity, focusing on California and East Africa. The researchers working on the effort plan to mine large quantities of historical…

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