Judite Blanc, PhD: VR on Maternal Stress, Sleep Reduction in Women of Color

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During SLEEP 2024, Judite Blanc, PhD, discussed her team’s ongoing study assessing whether an education VR program improves maternal stress and sleep among women of color.

At SLEEP 2024, the 38th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, Judite Blanc, PhD, a faculty at the University of Miami, presented her study called “VR for Stress Reduction and Sleep Health Improvement in Perinatal Women of Color: A qualitative Analysis from the Nurturing Moms Study” at the poster hall.

Blanc and her team are currently conducting this qualitative, focus-group study at the University of Miami Middle School of Medicine. The study aims to evaluate the feasibility of a virtual reality (VR) non-simulated ovulated education program among maternal women of color. Additionally, they wanted to explore participants perception of their maternal stress.

HCPLive: Can you discuss the key findings of your poster presentation?

Blanc: We realized that [among] those perinatal women of color…when it comes to maternal stress, the most impactful stress for them was to reconcile, to alternate between caregiver burden and professional responsibility. While they were talking about their struggle as professional women as women of color, expected model and new model and the topic of sleep came as one of the major areas that was impacted.

[For] those that were pregnant, we didn't really address why they were struggling to sleep. As you know, there is sleep disparity among perinatal women of color.

Examples of Prenatal Sleep Struggles for Women of Color

Example 1: Haitian American mother

Blanc: There was this Haitian American mom who was…complaining that the first 2-3 months she was sleep deprived after she had her baby.

[She said]: “But I think it comes with just giving birth in general, because you have to be up to change diapers. You have to be up to breastfeed the baby, and you have to be up to actually put them back to sleep. So, it's like you're on their schedule. For sure, I did have some moment where I really felt sleep deprived. I mean, even with help…you're still not getting…4 hours of sleep consecutively.”

Example 2: Complains about Medical Coverage

Blanc: [Another] topic that came up during that focus group session [was] maternal mental wellness, stress management, and self-care. Some of them were complaining about the fact that they don't have a strong medical coverage. One of them mentioned “I have to pay for a psychologist since my insurance does not cover it completely, and I believe that for supporting mental health is as important as doing childbirth.”

Example 3: Hispanic Expectant Mother

Blanc: Another one…is Hispanic expectant mother. She stated the sleep association to stress for postpartum… [is] not addressed as much. When I mentioned that [association she said], “it was like an aha moment because once they started talking about sleep, I [realized I] stress [about] that.”

So, then she realized, wow…the fact that she's struggling with her sleep health may be associated with maternal stress as well.

Significance of the Findings

Blanc: What's important here is the fact that [at SLEEP 2024], we [had] several sessions that focus on the social determinant of health on maternal sleep and/or sleep health, particularly sleep apnea, insomnia, [which may impact] the offspring development during the perinatal period [and] after birth.

Participants’ Views on VR for maternal stress

Blanc: Some [of the participants] were very strong about the fact that being a mom…embodies resilience. At the same time, we also had some black moms who complained “okay, why do we have to be strong?”

When it comes to emotion regulation, [some participants liked] …the VR experience, and they felt like they were learning about breastfeeding… they felt like they were lifted above the Earth. Some of them did not believe that the VR program could help, and then at the end of the [day] they [liked] it. They felt like they [received] a lot of resources.

[Another] aspect that were of interest to us is to be able to provide a tool to those perinatal women of color who are overburdened by social determinants of health stresses…even if VR cannot replace therapies.

VR Can Reduce Issues Related to Transportation, Healthcare Coverage, Avoiding Therapist Due to Stigma

Blanc: Those [are what] we think [VR] can help us address...the maternal mental health crisis, which is driving the maternal mortality crisis in America.


Blanc, J, Scaramutti, C, Carasco, M. VR for Stress Reduction and Sleep Health Improvement in Perinatal Women of Color: A qualitative Analysis from the Nurturing Moms Study. Abstract presented at SLEEP 2024. Houston, TX. June 1-5, 2024.