Megan Brooks

June 09, 2014

MINNEAPOLIS — Pregnant women who get regular moderate exercise in early pregnancy are likely to sleep better than those who don't, a new study shows.

Nearly 25% of pregnant women report poor sleep beginning early in pregnancy, said study investigator Michele Okun, PhD, senior research associate, University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. Yet few studies have looked at the benefits of exercise on sleep during pregnancy.

The study was presented here at SLEEP 2014, the 28th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies.

In the absence of medical or obstetric complications, 30 minutes of moderate exercise is recommended for pregnant women on most, if not all, days of the week. Yet, national data show that only 23% of pregnant women meet these recommendations.

Dr. Okun and colleagues evaluated the effects of exercise on sleep efficiency in 183 pregnant women. Daily diaries and actigraphy were used to collect sleep and exercise data during 10 to 12 weeks, 14 to 16 weeks, and 18 to 20 weeks of pregnancy.

After controlling for relevant covariates, they found that women who got moderate regular exercise had higher mean sleep efficiency and shorter mean wake after sleep onset times than women who did not exercise.

"There was no dose-effect with exercise," Dr. Okun reported. "High levels of exercise are not better for sleep than moderate levels of exercise, so you don't have to do a lot to get the benefits of exercise in pregnancy."

A vast amount of evidence indicates that poor sleep quality, short sleep duration, and symptoms of insomnia are associated with morbidity and mortality in nonpregnant groups, she noted. And a growing literature confirms these links in pregnancy, with the consequences not only affecting the mother but also having possible long-term effects on the infant.

"We need to figure out a way to get these women to exercise more, which may likely not only improve outcome but also sleep," Dr. Okun said.

She noted that regular exercise during pregnancy promotes physical and mental health. Research also suggests shorter labor times, fewer cesarean deliveries, and quicker recovery among women who exercise.

The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Nursing Research. The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

SLEEP 2014: 28th Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies. Oral Presentation 0994. Presented June 2, 2014.  

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