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Massey PhD graduand wins Australasian sleep research award


Sleep researcher Clare Ladyman

Sleep researcher Clare Ladyman.


Massey University PhD graduand Clare Ladyman has won the Sleep Health Foundation’s Emerging Sleep Hero Award for her research on sleep in pregnancy.

The award focuses on future New Zealand and Australian leaders in the field of sleep and was presented in October during the Australasian Sleep Association’s Sleep Week 2020. A total of five selected finalists were selected to present their sleep research findings in an entertaining and creative presentation.

Clare’s winning video describes her research findings, which highlighted the strong relationship between sleep and mental health throughout pregnancy and the postnatal period.

“Poor sleep is closely related to perinatal depression, and this can have severe and prolonged outcomes for mother and child. Fortunately, pregnancy is a key teachable life stage, with mothers keen to improve their health for the benefit of their baby, but unfortunately, research investigating sleep education interventions for preventing depression is scarce,” she says. 

These reasons led Clare to develop a sleep education pregnancy intervention for women at risk of depression relapse which later showed promise for improving sleep and minimising depression.

The education material used in the intervention was published as a book by Massey University Press in July, titled Sleeping Better in Pregnancy, which provides sleep information and practical strategies to help women get the best sleep possible throughout pregnancy.

Her academic interest in sleep arose after having her children and finding her sleeping patterns changed dramatically. “I was a brilliant sleeper for the first thirty years of my life. I loved going to bed, and I could fall asleep easily. So, it was a massive shock when I was pregnant for the first time. I was waking up throughout the night to go to the toilet, feeling sick and just feeling uncomfortable.

“When our sons started school, I went back to university to study sleep. I really wanted to know how it affected people’s health, particularly their mental health. That led to wanting to help other mothers learn about sleep. Pregnancy seemed a logical place to start, as it’s a time when many women start experiencing disrupted sleep,” she says.

She says The Sleep/Wake Research Centre in Wellington is “an incredibly special place. Some of the most world-renowned sleep scientists are located there in the best little capital in the world. I feel very fortunate to have spent four years there; not only with passionate sleep experts who were so generous with their knowledge, but also a group of lovely and supportive people who are now, and will always be, firm friends.”

Clare Ladyman is continuing her work with Associate Professor Leigh Signal and Dr Bronwyn Sweeney from the Sleep/Wake Research Centre on a current Health Research Council health delivery research activation grant. The project continues to investigate perinatal sleep and circadian health interventions to improve mental health outcomes in New Zealand mothers by completing a review of other published perinatal sleep interventions, as well as identifying what sleep information and services are being provided by Australian and New Zealand health agencies.

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