Does a mother’s sleep during pregnancy affect children’s development?

Sleep is incredibly important for children’s development. Getting 11-12 hours of sleep a day is associated with healthy development. Whereas getting too little sleep is associated with a host of problems.

Sleep is so important that a mother’s sleep quality can affect a child in utero. Research has established that sleep apnea in pregnancy negatively affects birth outcomes. But long-term impacts are unknown.

Research Summary

  • Children exposed to a mother’s sleep apnea in utero are not at greater risk for later developmental vulnerability.
  • These children are more likely to be admitted to the hospital in their first few years of life.

What is the research about?

Pregnant women with sleep apnea face a higher risk for pregnancy complications, including:

  • gestational diabetes
  • hypertension
  • pre-clampsia
  • low birth weight
  • preterm birth

Although these short-term risks are well known, long-term risks are unknown.

A University of Sydney study explored the link between child exposure to maternal sleep apnea in utero and long-term development.

What did the researchers do?

The study compared the health records of 209 women in New South Wales, Australia with sleep apnea to the records of approximately 626,000 women without sleep apnea. Health and educational records for their children were compared.

Children’s four primary outcomes were:

  1. mortality
  2. hospitalizations
  3. development, as measured by the Australian Early Development Census
  4. performance on standardized tests of reading and numeracy

What did the researchers find?

Compared to women without sleep apnea, women with sleep apnea were more likely to be:

  • older
  • born in Australia
  • less disadvantaged

Infants exposed to maternal sleep apnea were more likely to be preterm and large for gestational age.


There was no difference between groups in the rate of death up to age 6.


Infants of mothers with sleep apnea were more likely to be admitted to the hospital in their first six years.


Developmental vulnerability did not differ between the two groups.

Educational outcomes

Children of mothers with sleep apnea were at a greater risk for low reading scores, but only after accounting for maternal and social factors.

What does this research mean?

Researchers found that maternal sleep apnea was not related to poor developmental outcomes, but it did increase the child’s risk of hospitalizations during the first few years of life.

Overall, this research should reassure women who suffer from sleep apnea during pregnancy, as it does not seem to negatively affect their child’s long-term development.