A Calgary researcher is trying to help pregnant women get a good night’s sleep and that in turn could help reduce the risk of postpartum depression, make labour a little easier, and even impact the unborn baby’s sleep habits.

Many pregnant women find the bigger they get, the harder it is to get a good night’s sleep.

Often women can be up several times during the night, but researcher, Lianne Tomfohr, PhD with the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute said as long as women don’t stay awake women should not worry.

Tomfohr added “it's normal to wake up a little more often when you're pregnant - especially as you get bigger. You might sleep about 20 minutes less at the end of your pregnancy than you did at the beginning.”

However, Cat Gusztak who is expecting her first child at the end of October said she was missing much more than 20 minutes of sleep a night.  Gusztak said she couldn’t fall asleep and would lay awake “it would be one,two hours, it would be a long time.”

Gusztak was so concerned about her lack of sleep that she signed up for Tomfohr’s sleep study.

Tomfohr monitors participants’ sleep habits with a wrist monitor, then the women are enrolled in group therapy sessions in which women are offered tips on how to improve their sleep.

Gusztak said the tips were enough to help her fall asleep and stay asleep, “I think the biggest thing that helped me was the sleep hygiene - not having my electronics in the bed. If I couldn't sleep, I would go onto my phone, check the news or check Facebook.” 

Sleep problems in pregnant women have been linked to a higher risk of postpartum depression. Tomfohrsaid “it seems to be a really early sign that postpartum depression might be going to happen”.

Tomfohr hopes her research will determine if improving sleep will reduce the risk of a woman developing postpartum depression.

In addition, there is evidence that a lack of sleep can make labour longer and more painful, as well, poor sleep habits in a mother can translate into poor sleep habits in a baby.

Tomfohr hopes by helping pregnant women get a better night’s sleep it will impact the risk of postpartum depression, ease labour, and ensure babies have a better chance of developing good sleep habits.

Gusztak said in spite of what people told her, a good night’s sleep is possible, even when you are pregnant.  She said “not to dismiss it.”

Gusztak said she is now sleeping soundly again – you might say – sleeping like a baby!

Tomfohr is looking for more pregnant women to participate in the study. You can contact the study coordinator at hearts@ucalgary.ca or phone 403-220-7595.