Many people will tell you that sleepless nights when you are pregnant are just your body’s way of preparing you for those first several months as a new parent, when sleepless nights are the norm; that you should get used to it; that it is inevitable. While an interesting theory, sleepless nights not only negatively affect your health, but lack of sleep can have an impact on your labor, delivery and the well-being of you and your child after delivery.
For pregnant women, sleep is of critical importance. Research shows that sleep deprivation during pregnancy is linked with increased incidence of preterm labor and postpartum depression. A UCSF study showed women who slept fewer than 6 hours per night had longer labors and were 4.5 times more likely to have cesarean deliveries.
If you are struggling to sleep well during pregnancy, you are not alone! In a 2007 survey by the National Sleep Foundation, more than 80% of pregnant women reported having difficulty sleeping. In each trimester, different issues may arise:
- First Trimester: Fatigue sets in. You are growing a human being, and that takes a lot of energy. Your body’s hormone levels are changing, and increases in progesterone can make you feel sleepy earlier in the day. Progesterone also relaxes some muscles, resulting in frequent trips to the bathroom during the night. Hormone changes may also increase the risk of sleep apnea and snoring in some women. Many women find that stomach upset keeps them awake during the first trimester, as well. For some women, stress and anxiety may cause insomnia, either at the beginning of the night or in the middle of the night, perhaps after one of those trips to the bathroom.
- Second Trimester: Good news! For many women, energy levels improve at this time and you may be able to get better sleep. However, things like worry, stress, aches and pains, and pressed-upon bladder may keep you up throughout the night. Some women report an increase in vivid dreams or nightmares during this period. As if that wasn’t enough, heartburn may also disrupt your sleep at this time, as your internal organs make room for the uterus.
- Third Trimester: As your body continues to change and your fetus becomes larger, you may find it even more uncomfortable to sleep. During the last few months, some women experience Restless Leg Syndrome, which causes an uncontrollable urge to move your legs. Iron deficiency, hormone changes, and genetics may all contribute. General discomfort, fetal movement, indigestion, bladder pressure, and stress or anxiety may continue to disrupt sleep during the final months of pregnancy.
As with all sleep concerns, sleep hygiene is the best defense against most adult sleep troubles, especially during pregnancy. Here are some suggestions for things you can do to help with sleep – especially when you’re expecting:
- Sleep in a dark, cool room (around 70 degrees Farenheit).
- Use white noise to drown out any household or neighborhood noises that may wake you.
- Try not to eat within 2 hours of bedtime. (If you’re nauseated and find that eating helps, try to limit your bedtime snacks to bland foods like pretzels, saltines, or toast.)
- Stop exercising 2 hours before bedtime. (And if you’re pregnant and still working out, I applaud you!)Turn off all screens (including phones, tablets, TVs, and computers) an hour before bedtime.
- Try to keep your bedroom a space for relaxation – don’t do work in bed, try not to watch TV in bed – your bed should be for sleeping, intimacy with your partner and reading!
- Dim the lights as you get ready for bed – darkness can help your body naturally produce melatonin which will make you feel more sleepy.
- Try to go to bed at around the same time every night and wake around the same time every morning – aiming for around 8 hours if you can.
- If you do wake in the middle of the night, don’t turn on a screen. Instead, try reading, doing relaxation exercises, or writing in a journal. (Keeping some paper and a pen by your bed to jot down any worries or things you want to remember will be helpful if you’re someone who has trouble falling back to sleep.)
- Try sleeping on your left side. It may help blood and nutrients flow to your placenta and it keeps the weight of your belly off your liver.
- Use a body pillow between your legs and to help support your baby bump.
If you are struggling to sleep while pregnant, discuss your symptoms with your doctor. Don’t just suffer through it, assuming it’s part of the “joys” of motherhood. When you are pregnant, make sleep a priority. Establish healthy sleep habits yourself as you begin to prepare for your new baby’s arrival!
About our Guest Author
Melissa Zdrodowski is a Certified Maternity and Child Sleep Consultant and the co-founder of Sleep Sisters. Melissa has been helping families improve their sleep for over three years. She is experienced in a broad range of methods and techniques, and works with each individual family to find an approach that suits their unique style and needs. Melissa understands how challenging everything feels when the family isn’t getting enough sleep, so she provides sisterly support to help caregivers make difficult changes. Melissa lives in Woodside, CA with her husband and two children. She sees clients in person throughout the Bay Area and by phone/video around the world. She also speaks to groups and teaches seminars. Learn more about Sleep Sisters and book a consultation at www.sleepsisters.com