Everything Pregnancy

Pregnant and Exhausted? You Could Have This Sleep Disorder

A new study finds a shocking number of pregnant women may suffer from this undiagnosed sleep disorder.

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It's no secret that pregnancy sleep is an oxymoron. Between your ever-expanding belly and a virtual buffet of annoying side effects—heartburn!—getting proper rest while expecting can feel close to impossible. But now a new study out of Hebrew University of Jerusalem and published in the International Journal of Obstetric Anesthesia says as many as one quarter of pregnant women may suffer from Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA).

OSA, which is the recurrent cessation, or limitation, of normal breathing during sleep, can not only result in feeling downright exhausted during the day (wait, that's not just being pregnant?), but if left untreated, it can cause serious complications like high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and heart disease. Still, it's not routinely screened for in pregnant women, even though OSA may also lead to adverse outcomes for a woman's developing baby.

Because this condition is so under-recognized, researchers at Hebrew University are recommending a new diagnosis of OSA in pregnant women: Gestational Sleep Apnea. They hope a new classification will encourage doctors to routinely screen for and treat OSA, much like they do gestational hypertension.

"Currently there is a lack of uniform criteria to diagnose, treat, and classify OSA in the pregnant population, which in turn complicates efforts to determine the risk factors for, and complications of, gestational sleep apnea," explains Yehuda Ginosar, M.D., director of the Mother and Child Anesthesia Unit at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical Center and professor of Anesthesiology and Chief of the Division of Obstetric Anesthesiology at Washington University School of Medicine. He hopes this report is a step toward changing that.

The takeaway for now: If you feel fatigued more than you think you should while pregnant, talk to your doctor about OSA. You may be referred to a Sleep-Certified Physician, who can help you address this or other sleep-related issues. What they can't do is make it comfortable to sleep on your stomach, or your side, (or sometimes at all!), or help you get more zzz's once the baby arrives!

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.