The relationship between sleep characteristics and fatigue in healthy postpartum women

Womens Health Issues. Jan-Feb 2009;19(1):38-44. doi: 10.1016/j.whi.2008.07.015.


Background: Postpartum sleep is a difficult and complicated concept to measure owing to the intrusive nature of research at a sensitive and private time for new families. Nurses often find themselves advising mothers on ways to improve sleep and reduce fatigue based on teachings that are not evidence based. The purpose of this secondary analysis of a larger study of postpartum fatigue patterns was to examine the relationship between sleep characteristics and postpartum fatigue during the first 6 weeks after delivery.

Methods: A prospective, longitudinal, descriptive study was conducted of 109 postpartum women. Sleep and fatigue were measured using a 16-item subjective sleep characteristics scale and a 30-statement subjective fatigue instrument. Three measurement points were used: 1) 1-2 days after delivery (before hospital discharge); 2) 2 weeks postpartum; and 3) 6 weeks postpartum.

Results: Fatigue had a positive correlation with sleep disturbance at all three measurement points, indicating that higher levels of fatigue are associated with more disturbed sleep. No association was found between levels of fatigue and sleep supplementation. Levels of fatigue had a negative correlation with sleep effectiveness at all measurement points, indicating that the women were more fatigued if they perceived their sleep quality and adequacy to be poor or if they perceived the time spent sleeping to be short.

Conclusions: To reduce fatigue, nurses should focus on exploring ways to reduce maternal sleep disturbance and improve maternal sleep effectiveness. It is unclear whether the age-old advice to "nap when your baby naps" is effective in reducing postpartum fatigue.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Adult
  • Anxiety / epidemiology
  • Comorbidity
  • Depression, Postpartum / epidemiology
  • Fatigue / epidemiology*
  • Fatigue / psychology
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Postpartum Period*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Puerperal Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Puerperal Disorders / psychology
  • Reference Values
  • Regression Analysis
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Time Factors
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult