By Paige Hulsey

ST. LOUIS (CNN) — Working moms know it’s nearly impossible to run a household, have a full time job, and get good sleep. Now, researchers at Washington University are trying to find out if that puts pregnant women at risk of preterm labor.

“Anybody who is pregnant could tell you their sleep is disrupted but nobody has really studied it that closely before and whether severe disruptions in that sleep can impact the outcome of their pregnancy,” said Emily Jungheim, M.D., M.S.C.I., with the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Washington University in St. Louis.

They are looking for hundreds of volunteers to track through pregnancy for a study sponsored by the March of Dimes.

“I think it’s important for women in the study to know while participation may not change their outcome, it really could help inform better outcomes for people and families and couples that are out there who have had adverse events happen in their pregnancies or who may suffer from risks,” said Dr. Jungheim.

Dr. Brittany Blue is participating in the study. As a neonatology fellow at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, mother of a 3-year-old and expecting another child, she has both personal and professional reasons to get involved.

“It is hard to see those babies that are born two or three months early and see what type of lives they end up living,” said Blue.

Blue is encouraging other women to get involved.

“People of color need to participate in these types of studies,” she said, noting premature labor predominately affects African Americans.

Researchers are also looking to see if the odd sleep schedule of shift workers or the inconsistent sleep of busy moms are factors.

“Historically, we’ve thought of shift workers as those who have a lot of disruption in their daily sleep pattern or desire for sleep but as we get busier I think a lot of us recognize that just anyone who’s managing children, managing other people in their lives, work, you’re going to have disruptions in your sleep pattern and where you would prefer to sleep and where you need to be,” said Dr. Jungheim.

If they can prove a link between sleep issues and preterm labor, then they hope to continue research to find a way to address it.

“Ultimately, could it be prescribing sleep? If you are a shift worker, could you then pick shifts that are more in line with what your underlying circadian rhythm biology is? So, for example, if you’re somebody who prefers to get up early in the morning, maybe during your pregnancy or at least during those critical points in your pregnancy, maybe you could be restricted to working these shifts,” said Dr. Jungheim.

Women who are interested in learning more about the study or getting involved can e-mail March of Dimes at philanthropy@marchofdimes.

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