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'Sleep not diet is the key to shedding pounds after childbirth'

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What did the papers say?

Several national newspapers reported that getting more sleep, rather than dieting, was the most important factor to consider for women trying to lose weight after pregnancy.

What did the research show?

The stories were based on a US cohort study in which researchers looked for links between the amount of sleep reported at six months after giving birth with substantial postpartum weight retention – defined as 5kg or more above pre-pregnancy weight at one year postpartum – in 940 women. Of the subjects, the study authors said 13% experienced significant weight retention.

Overall, they found 12% of the women in the study reported sleeping five hours or less per day, 30% slept six hours a day, 34% slept seven hours a day, and 24% slept eight hours or more per day.

They calculated that, versus seven hours sleep per day, the adjusted odds ratios for substantial weight retention were 3.13 for five hours sleep or less per day, 0.99 for six hours a day and 0.94 for eight hours or more per day.

Sleeping five hours or less a day at six months postpartum was strongly associated with retaining 5kg or more at one year postpartum, the authors concluded.

What did the researchers say?

Lead investigator Erica Gunderson, from Kaiser Permanente’s research division in Oakland, California, said: ‘We’ve known for some time that sleep deprivation is associated with weight gain and obesity in the general population, but this study shows that getting enough sleep – even just two hours more – may be as important as a healthy diet and exercise for new mothers to return to their pre-pregnancy weight.’

‘With the results of this study, new mothers must be wondering, “How can I get more sleep for both me and my baby?” added co-author Matthew Gillman, from Harvard medical school’s department of ambulatory care and prevention.

What does this mean for nursing practice?

Dr David Haslam, clinical director of the National Obesity Forum, said: ‘The trouble is that being awake for longer also provides more time for snacking and disobeying the energy balance equation which will help them return to a healthy weight.

‘The message is that getting a proper amount of sleep isn’t a luxury, it’s essential for the health of new mums – and presents an ideal opportunity for Dad to help out with the baby.’

American Journal of Epidemiology advance access (2007)

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