Lack of Sleep and Activity Can Lead to Premature Births, a Stanford Study Shows

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Are you expecting soon? With 10.5 percent of births being premature in the United States (a rate that’s higher than most first world countries), researchers at Stanford Medicine conducted a new study that revealed lack of sleep and physical activity can potentially lead to an early delivery date. 

In the study, 1,000 pregnant women wore smartwatches to collect data. With these devices, researchers looked at each of the women’s activity to see if there were any changes in their sleep and overall movement throughout their pregnancy. (1)

“We showed that an artificial intelligence algorithm can build a ‘clock’ of physical activity and sleep during pregnancy, and can tell how far along a patient’s pregnancy is,” Neal Ravindra, the lead researcher of the study said. (2)

From the wearable devices, the final data concluded that when women got further into their pregnancy, their sleep patterns worsened and they became less active. However, women did not follow the clock of the AI technology, which showed that women who exhibited altered sleep and activity patterns at a faster pace in relation to their pregnancy progression had an increased likelihood of delivering prematurely. 

So what could this mean for you in your pregnancy, or for someone you know? We decided to speak with some experts to learn more about how women can potentially have a safe and on-time delivery. 

What Do The Doctors Say?

Just as sleep is important for you, it’s also important for your baby. We spoke with Dr. Laura Purdy, MD, and she said that when you don’t get enough sleep it can affect your immune system, which affects a growing fetus at all stages of pregnancy. (3)

In terms of physical activity, she said that exercise and premature birth are not definitively linked, but you should make sure you are not trying any new or challenging workouts while pregnant. 

However, a good rule of thumb is: don’t do anything pregnant that your body was not already doing pre-pregnancy as far as workouts, and level of workouts go, she told Sleepopolis. 

If you’re not getting the sleep you need, Dr. Purdy gave some suggestions on how to get better sleep at night while pregnant. 

“Make sure you are not sleeping too much during the day if you can help it,” she said. “You want to make sure you are saving sleep for nighttime and staying awake when possible during the day to keep your sleep cycles in place.” 

She also suggested getting into the right sleeping position to avoid any cramps or nausea, to try taking a nice warm bath, or engage in some deep breathing before bedtime. 

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    1. Ravindra NG, Espinosa C, Berson E, et al. Deep representation learning identifies associations between physical activity and sleep patterns during pregnancy and prematurity. Nature News. September 28, 2024. Accessed October 4, 2024. 
  • 2. Digitale E. Wearable device data reveals that reduced sleep and activity in pregnancy is linked to premature birth risk. Stanford Medicine News Center. September 28, 2024. Accessed October 4, 2024. 

  • 3. Dr. Purdy, America’s favorite doctor. Dr. Purdy, America’s Favorite Doctor. Accessed October 4, 2024. 

  • Purdy, Laura. Personal Interview. October 4, 2o23.

Ava Girardi

Ava Girardi

Ava Girardi is an Editorial News Intern for Sleepopolis. She loves writing about all things sleep from viral bedtime routines on TikTok to studies on sleep quality that will help you get the most helpful information to achieve that perfect bedtime routine. Ava is currently studying at Elon University where she is a double major in journalism and media analytics. When she is not writing, Ava is spending time with friends or family, running, or trying new yummy foods.

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