With the arrival of a child, the sleep of new mothers is often affected with nights that consist of breastfeeding and calming the newborns.
A recent survey, conducted at the University of California and published in the scientific journal Sleep Health, showed that lack of sleep in mothers in the first six months after the birth of their children can accelerate cell aging.
In all, the study followed 33 women, between 23 and 45 years old, during pregnancy and the first year of their children’s lives — most of the women who participated in the survey were married and 57% nulliparous, that is, they did not have another child before.
For the survey, the women completed sleep questionnaires and also had blood samples assessed—they attended six meetings, three during pregnancy and the rest during their children’s first year.
After follow-up, the research showed that mothers who slept less than seven hours a day were biologically aged 3 to 7 years older than those who maintained healthy sleep.
In mothers who claimed to be sleep deprived, telomere shortening was observed. “The telomere is a piece of the chromosome and, when there is a shortening, this indicates a sign of cellular aging”, explains Helena Hachul, a gynecologist and researcher at the Instituto do Sono.
Postpartum maternal exhaustion is a fact, recalls the doctor. “When you are a doctor and you are on duty, one hour it ends and you pass the shift to the next. With the baby, however, there is nothing to do, there is no continuous sleep for months. Every 2 or 3 hours, he cries or needs to be fed,” she says.
Sleep deprivation, in general, is already a major risk factor, says Andrea Bacelar, neurologist and president of the Brazilian Sleep Association. “They exponentially increase the chances of brain, cardiac and metabolic problems”, he says.
With new mothers, the scenario is aggravated, since the lack of sleep happens every night. “We have a being that depends on the mother to live, besides, we have the inexperience and the built-in concern at this moment, associated with hormonal changes”, explains Bacelar.
One of the dangers of lack of sleep in the breastfeeding mother is lack of milk, since breast milk is produced during sleep. “This mother needs to sleep to produce milk and feed her child, if she is sleep deprived and cannot supply milk production, she will accumulate worries that also negatively interfere with sleep”, he says.
Bacelar also states that, despite the existence of cell regeneration, which compensates for the losses, sleep deprivation is cumulative and it is not possible to recover the lost sleep.
In the case of mothers, the most recommended is to take advantage of the moments when the baby is sleeping to be able to guarantee a few hours of sleep. Polyphasic sleep, that divided into several naps throughout the day, is not ideal, explains the doctor, but it is a way for the mother to guarantee a few hours of rest.
Carina Sousa, perinatal psychologist and creator of the Instagram page Maternidade Pensante, says that postpartum care is needed. Inside the office, she says it is common to hear from patients who do not know what is happening to them. “It’s a whirlwind of emotions and sleep is not always the only problem, it’s contact with the unknown, breastfeeding, in addition to many feelings, both joy and sadness”, she says.
The baby’s sleep, the psychologist reminds us, is deregulated until the first four months of life, when the body starts to produce melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep. Therefore, it is recommended that mothers find support networks so that they can rest during this period.
Souza suggests, for example, that while the baby sleeps, the mother can count on the help of a family member or friend, who can take care of the household chores, for her to sleep. Furthermore, it is important to seek emotional support, as motherhood is fraught with doubts and insecurities. And finally, connecting to a group of mothers is also a good option for the woman to understand that what she is going through is not abnormal.