Usually new mothers complain that all those sleepless nights caring for their newborns have taken years off their life. They seem to be right if a recent study by the UCLA researchers has to be believed.
The UCLA scientists examined 33 mothers during their pregnancies and the first year of their babies’ lives. They analysed the women’s DNA from blood samples to look into biological age. The researchers found that one year after delivery, the biological age of women 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.
DNA AND SLEEP
They found that the mothers who slept less than seven hours had shorter telomeres in their white blood cells. These pieces of DNA at the ends of chromosomes act as protective caps, like the plastic tips on the ends of shoelaces, the UCLA said. Shortened telomeres have been linked to a higher risk of cancers, cardiovascular and other diseases, and earlier death, the UCLA said.
First author Judith Carroll (UCLA’s George F Solomon Professor of Psychobiology) noted that the early months of postpartum sleep deprivation could have a lasting effect on physical health. Moreover, the scientists pointed out that it was a normal health issue for people who sleep less than seven hours a night to be detrimental to health and increase the risk of age-related diseases.
GET A NAP
Carroll remarked that they found that with every hour of additional sleep, the mother’s biological age was younger. The UCLA scientists asked new mothers to take advantage of opportunities to get a 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.
Co-author Christine Dunkel Schetter (professor of psychology and psychiatry at UCLA) noted that the study provided impetus for better supporting mothers of young infants so that they can get sufficient sleep — possibly through parental leave so that both parents can bear some of the burden of care, and through programs for families and fathers.
In the study, the scientists used the latest scientific methods of analyzing changes in DNA to assess biological aging — also known as epigenetic aging,