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New Research on Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Pregnancy

By Expert Sleep Medicine on December 18, 2018 in Sleep Experts

Trouble sleeping when a baby is on the way may be more than just more frequent visits to the bathroom throughout the night, queasiness, heartburn, and body aches. Recent research has shown that during pregnancy, 30% of women develop obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) in their third trimester. Sufficient and quality sleep is vital for everyone, but especially for pregnant women and the development of their infant.

Women are half as likely as men to develop sleep apnea but are much less likely to report it as men are diagnosed with sleep apnea eight times more often. Sleep deprivation during pregnancy has already been associated with longer labor and higher cesarean rates, and it is essential to include sleep as part of prenatal care.

This new research goes further, a recent study in the Frontiers of Neurology, has documented an association between the sleep disorder OSA and both maternal and fetal outcomes. The diagnosis of sleep apnea in women is even more crucial for women who are pregnant, due to causing or worsening of gestational diabetes, pregnancy-induced hypertension, and preterm birth.

Reviewing sleep-related breathing disorders the research found that sleep disorders, including OSA and central sleep apnea, are prevalent in pregnant women. OSA can develop due to diaphragm displacement, upper airway inflammation, hormonal changes, and weight gain during pregnancy.

OSA is a common sleeping disorder that occurs when someone has one or more pauses in breathing while sleeping. In addition to sleep deprivation, sleep apnea also lowers the oxygen level in your blood which is dangerous for patients and their baby.

OSA may cause or worsen many pregnancy-related complications:

  • Gestational Diabetes Mellitus (two times the risk)
  • Gestational Hypertension or Pregnancy-Induced Hypertension (four times the risk)
  • Preeclampsia
  • Preterm birth
  • Depression
  • Hypercoagulation

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea in Pregnancy:

During pregnancy, many women develop OSA due to diaphragm displacement, upper airway inflammation, hormonal changes, and weight gain. If you notice the following symptoms during pregnancy, talk to your physician:

  • Loud Snoring
  • Apneas (Pauses in breathing while sleeping)
  • Excessive Daytime Sleepiness
  • Frequent urination at night
  • Insomnia

Other sleep symptoms:

  • Emotional Lability
  • Poor Memory
  • Poor Cognition
  • Fatigue
  • Poor Mood

What If I think I have a sleep disorder?

If you think you have a sleep disorder, consult your ob-gyn or a sleep specialist. Screening and treating OSA has now been shown to improve multiple outcomes and quality of life.

Our specialist may recommend a home sleep test or a standard sleep study lab test. A home sleep test can be taken in the comfort of your bed and has a 95% accuracy for the diagnosis of sleep apnea.

Treatment options for OSA during Pregnancy:

If diagnosed with severe obstructive sleep apnea, physicians may recommend a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). A CPAP has three main parts, a mask or other device that fits over your nose or your nose and mouth, a tube that connects the mask to the machines, and the machine that blows air into the tube.

The CPAP treatment is a safe and effective treatment for sleep apnea during pregnancy. After pregnancy OSA may resolve with weight loss and as hormonal changes back to pre-pregnancy levels.

Trouble sleeping may be more of an issue than you think, if you are experiencing any of the sleep symptoms above, contact your doctor or a sleep specialist to get tested.

Additional Resources:

Sleep and Pregnancy (AASM)