Prenatal Cannabis Use Might Cause Sleep Problems for Offspring

July 06, 2020
Evan A. Winiger, MA

Evan A. Winiger, MA

Pregnant mothers who use cannabis might be increasing the risk of sleep issues for their offspring, even a decade after birth.

A team, led by Evan A. Winiger, MA, Institute for Behavioral Genetics, University of Colorado Boulder, examined the link between prenatal cannabis exposure and child sleep outcomes.

The investigators used data from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study (ABCD Study) to determine whether maternal reports of prenatal cannabis use was tied to child sleep outcomes.

Overall, they examined 11,875 9-10 year old individuals after controlling for covariates such as prenatal substance exposure, mother’s education, combined household income, parental marital status, race, child sex, and child age.

Each mother was asked to fill out an extensive questionnaire, which included if they had ever used marijuana while pregnant and how frequently.

Also, part of the questionnaire was a survey regarding their child’s sleep patterns, assessing 26 different items ranging from how easily they fall asleep and how long they slept to whether they snored or woke up frequently in the night and how sleepy they were during the day.

Of the nearly 12,000 respondents, about 700 mothers reported using cannabis while pregnant, 184 of which used it daily and 262 used it twice or more daily.

The investigators found the endorsement of any prenatal cannabis use was linked to symptoms of disorders of initiating and maintaining sleep, arousal disorders, sleep wake disorders, disorders of excessive somnolence, and a summed sleep disorder score (all β >0.10 and P <0.03).

However, the frequency of prenatal daily cannabis use was significantly associated with disorders of excessive somnolence (β = 0.29; P = 0.03).

"Mothers who said they had used cannabis while pregnant were significantly more likely to report their children having clinical sleep problems," Winiger said in a statement.

While causality is not truly established, the investigators believe the study results suggest potential long-term effects of prenatal cannabis exposure on sleep and the prudence of abstinence from cannabis use while pregnant.

However, a number of research initiatives have pointed to cannabis use as an issue for pregnant mothers. For example, a small study discovered children who had been exposed to marijuana in utero woke up more at night and had lower sleep quality at age 3, while another study found prenatal cannabis use impacted sleep in infancy.
 
Currently, the number of pregnant women who use alcohol or cigarettes has declined in the US, but the use of cannabis has increased 7%.

"As a society, it took us a while to understand that smoking and drinking alcohol are not advisable during pregnancy, but it is now seen as common sense," said senior author John Hewitt, director of the Institute for Behavioral Genetics at CU Boulder. "Studies like this suggest that it is prudent to extend that common sense advice to cannabis, even if use is now legal."

The study, “Prenatal cannabis exposure and sleep outcomes in children 9–10 years of age in the adolescent brain cognitive development SM study,” was published online in Sleep Health: The Journal of The National Sleep Foundation.
 
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