Short sleep linked to gestational diabetes

11 January 2017 | Research
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A study involving NUS researchers found that pregnant women who sleep less than six hours per night are at higher risk of developing GDM.

Researchers from Singapore have found that pregnant women who sleep less than six hours per night are at higher risk of having gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM). This Singapore study is also the first study to examine the relationship between sleep duration and GDM in a multi-ethnic Asian population. The findings were published in the journal SLEEP.

Associate Professor Joshua Gooley from Duke-NUS Medical School and Dr Cai Shirong from NUS Medicine analysed the sleep habits and glucose levels of 686 pregnant women participating in the Growing Up in Singapore Towards healthy Outcomes (GUSTO) study. GUSTO is a long-term study that seeks to determine effects of maternal health and lifestyle on growth outcomes of their children.

The researchers found a link between short sleep and increased risk of GDM. Among women who reported sleeping less than six hours a night, 27.3 per cent had GDM, as compared to the lower rate of 16.8 per cent among those who reported sleeping seven to eight hours a night.

High glucose levels, as presented in GDM, is one of the most common health problems during pregnancy, and if not managed well, can lead to complications that affect mother and child. This includes pre-term labour, obstructed labour, birth trauma, high blood pressure for mothers, and increased risk of mother and foetal deaths.

Singapore has one of the highest rates of GDM, which increases the risk of subsequent Type 2 diabetes in women after giving birth. About one in five pregnant women in Singapore are diagnosed with GDM, which is more than double the rate in the US.

Speaking of the research, Assoc Prof Gooley said that the findings raise the possibility that good sleep habits could reduce the likelihood of developing hyperglycemia and GDM.

“With the recently launched ‘War on Diabetes’ in Singapore, the importance of healthy sleep habits should be emphasised to doctors and patients, in addition to initiatives that are geared towards improving other lifestyle factors, such as diet and exercise,” he added.

The first author of the study Dr Cai said, “Our study provides a better understanding of how we may be able to counter a potentially serious condition for pregnant women and their children. Additional studies are needed to assess the contributions of other modifiable lifestyle factors to GDM risk.”

The findings from this study are consistent with other studies linking short sleep with Type 2 diabetes in non-pregnant populations. Sleep is one of the factors that affect glucose metabolism.