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Why 'Night Owl' Women Might Be at Higher Risk During Pregnancy

WEDNESDAY, March 24, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- Women who develop diabetes during pregnancy have a higher risk of complications for themselves and their babies if they're night owls instead of early birds, a new study finds.

Gestational diabetes increases the mother's risk of premature delivery and preeclampsia (pregnancy-induced high blood pressure). It also raises the baby's risk of growing too large in the womb or having breathing problems after birth.

The new study included 305 women with gestational diabetes during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. Nearly half said they were morning people, 21 were night people and 133 had no strong preference either way.

Compared to the other women in the study, night owls had a three times higher risk of preeclampsia, and a four times higher risk of their newborns being treated in a neonatal intensive care unit.

The findings were presented Saturday at the virtual annual meeting of The Endocrine Society.

The study suggests a new potential health risk from disturbances in the body's 24-hour internal clock, specifically the sleep-wake cycle, according to study author Dr. Cristina Figueiredo Sampaio Facanha. She's an endocrinologist at the diabetes center of the Federal University of Ceara in Fortaleza, Brazil.

"Circadian rhythm disturbances could add an additional risk of poor pregnancy outcomes in women with gestational diabetes," Facanha said in an Endocrine Society news release.

Hormones, blood pressure and blood sugar (glucose) metabolism follow circadian rhythms that synchronize with a master clock in the brain, she explained. "When the circadian rhythm for the sleep-wake cycle is thrown off, it not only can create sleep problems but also can interfere with glucose metabolism, affecting pregnancy health," Facanha noted.

The study also found that night owls reported significantly greater symptoms of depression both before and after pregnancy, as well as worse sleep quality, insomnia and daytime sleepiness.

Even after the researchers controlled for depression and sleep variables, being a night owl remained an independent risk factor for preeclampsia in women with gestational diabetes.

Screening women with gestational diabetes to find out if they're night owls "might be helpful in the prediction of complications in pregnancy," Facanha suggested.

"Women may be able to reduce their evening preference," she said. "A change in habits and increased exposure to morning natural light, exercise and a reduction in blue screen light is an accessible form of treatment that can potentially improve health measures in pregnancy."

Gestational diabetes affects four to eight of every 100 pregnant women in the United States, according to the Hormone Health Network and the International Diabetes Federation.

Data and conclusions presented at meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more on gestational diabetes.

SOURCE: The Endocrine Society, news release, March 20, 2021

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