Pregnancy can be a wonderful time, but it can bring with it its own niggles and difficulties. Most expectant moms expect to experience symptoms such as nausea and frequent urination at some point during their pregnancy. However, many are surprised and displeased to discover that they experience problems with their sleep when they’re expecting a little one.
Although pregnancy inevitably has some effect on a woman’s sleep, the good news is that there are various things you can do to help you get a restful night’s sleep when you’re pregnant. Our sleep experts have been hard at work gathering the best sleep tips, tricks and products for pregnant women to improve the quality and quantity of your sleep, starting tonight!
Why Does Sleep Matter During Pregnancy?
High quality sleep is important for everyone because this is when the body carries out vital repair to tissues. This is especially important when the body is under additional stress and strain from carrying and nourishing a growing baby.
Getting enough sleep is also important to maintaining a healthy immune system, which is even more important than ever during pregnancy. A good amount of sleep also helps to maintain healthy blood sugar levels, reducing the likelihood of developing gestational diabetes.
How Much Sleep Do Pregnant Women Need?
Most people need 7-9 hours of sleep every night. Pregnant women require more than this, with most requiring 8-10 hours. However, many women find it difficult to get enough sleep due to discomfort or sleep disorders.
Does Pregnancy Affect Sleep?
Although many people struggle to get the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep a night for adults, this is often even harder for pregnant moms. Most women find that their sleep is more disturbed during pregnancy than at any other time in their lives.
This disturbed sleep is often caused by normal symptoms of pregnancy. These include aching joints, nausea and heartburn. Some women find that the movements of their baby in later pregnancy make it harder to fall and stay asleep. The increased size of the uterus can also put excess pressure on the bladder, especially in the first and third trimesters, causing night-time waking to visit the bathroom more often.
Why Do Pregnant Women Feel So Tired?
Many women feel flat-out exhausted during pregnancy, especially during the first and third trimesters. Some find the lethargy they experience completely overwhelming.
During the first trimester, tiredness is caused by a dramatic spike in the hormone progesterone. This is vital for maintaining a healthy pregnancy. However, progesterone also causes feelings of sleepiness. Tiredness can also be caused by the metabolic changes necessary for growing a baby.
Although women often find that they feel more energetic during the second trimester, those feelings of exhaustion can creep back in once the third trimester rolls around. This is because the task of maintaining and carrying a larger baby takes a lot of energy.
Which Sleep Disorders Affect Pregnant Women?
While some sort of sleep disturbance is normal during pregnancy, some women will go on to develop a sleep disorder. Additionally, women who already have sleep disorders may find that their symptoms get worse during pregnancy. Read on for our quick guide to sleep disorders that affect pregnant women most often.
Does Sleep Position Matter During Pregnancy?
During pregnancy, many women find that their usual sleep position is no longer comfortable or practical. Having to get used to a new sleeping position can make falling asleep more difficult than usual. Of course, stomach sleeping quickly becomes impossible when you have a growing baby bump. Also, sleeping on your back isn’t recommended during later pregnancy because the pressure of the uterus can reduce blood flow to the placenta. Many women find this position uncomfortable in any event.
The safest position to sleep in during pregnancy is lying on the side, ideally on the left. This position allows optimal blood flow to the placenta, ensuring that the baby receives adequate oxygen and nourishment during the night.
Insomnia is one of the most frequently reported sleep disorders even for people who are not pregnant. However, pregnant women are especially likely to experience insomnia. People with this sleep disorder often find it difficult to nod off to sleep and may experience frequent night-time waking. They may also wake up earlier than they want to in the morning.
Sometimes there is no clear reason that a pregnant woman develops insomnia. One common reason is stress or anxiety caused by concerns surrounding impending childbirth or motherhood. Some of the common symptoms of pregnancy described above such as nausea may give significant enough discomfort to cause insomnia in pregnant women.
Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)
RLS causes uncomfortable and unpleasant sensations in a person’s legs. Different people experience the condition in different ways, but sensations such as itching, burning or creeping are often reported. This is usually worse when the person is resting in their bed.
For this reason, people with RLD tend to move their legs frequently in an attempt to relieve these sensations. However, they are likely to return once the legs are still again. This can cause sleeplessness as the constant urge to move the legs makes it difficult to nod off to sleep.
Around a quarter of pregnant women experience RLS. It’s most commonly reported during the third trimester. The good news is that RLS usually resolves itself soon after the baby is born.
People with sleep apnea experience interruptions in their normal breathing rhythm while they sleep. This is caused by obstructed airways. People with this condition tend to snore loudly and stop breathing for short periods of time in the night. This is followed by gasping or gagging as the brain restores a normal breathing pattern, causing the person to temporarily and partially wake up. This means that sleep quality is significantly reduced, making the person feel sleepier that usual during the day. They may also suffer from headaches upon waking.
Sleep apnea is more likely during pregnancy, especially in women who were already overweight at conception. This is because excess fat around the airways makes them more likely to collapse during sleep, causing an obstruction. Even women who began their pregnancy at a healthy weight can develop sleep apnea as a result of the weight gain associated with pregnancy.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
GERD is more commonly referred to as heartburn or acid reflux. It’s very common in pregnant women. This is partially because pregnancy hormones slow down digestion. The growing baby also puts pressure on the woman’s stomach, which can cause acid to make their way up the esophagus and cause pain and discomfort.
These symptoms are usually worse when a woman lies down to go to sleep because gravity is no longer holding the stomach contents down. This position makes it easier for stomach acid to travel up the esophagus and cause problems.
Should Pregnant Women Take Daytime Naps?
If you’re very tired during the day, you may be wondering whether it’s a good idea to nap during the day. Daytime tiredness in pregnant women is very common, although it may be worth checking with your healthcare provider if your sleepiness is excessive as it may be a sign of sleep apnea or another sleep disorder.
For most adults, daytime napping is generally not advised as it can disrupt night-time sleep. However, this advice does not apply during pregnancy. In fact, daytime naps may well be beneficial. If you choose to take naps, it’s best to limit them to around 20-30 minutes. Also, try not to nap after around 4pm. If you do, this may make it tougher to fall asleep at bedtime.
Pregnancy And Vivid Dreams
Many pregnant women report having dreams that are more vivid than usual. While some of your wackier dreams can make for entertaining stories, frightening or disturbing ones may affect your ability to fall and stay asleep. Changes to the way you dream during pregnancy can include:
• Very lucid dreams
• Increased dream frequency
• Increased intensity of dreams
• Improved ability to recall dreams
So, why does pregnancy make your dreams so weird and wonderful? It’s thought that the increase in progesterone may be partly to blame for odd pregnancy dreams. If you’re feeling especially anxious or worried about childbirth or parenting, these dreams may be your mind’s way of processing these complicated emotions.
Finally, your disrupted sleep pattern may be the culprit. If your sleep is disturbed and you’re waking more in the night, this can lead to a change in the way you dream once you do nod off to sleep.
Can Pregnant Women Take Sleeping Pills?
It’s not advised that pregnant women use prescription sleeping pills, particularly during the first and third trimesters. Some over-the-counter sleeping aids, including antihistamines that induce drowsiness, may be safe to take during pregnancy. However, it’s always best to seek advice from a doctor or pharmacist before taking any of these medications during pregnancy, especially if you are taking any other medications at the same time.
There may be some situations where a doctor decides that the benefits of taking prescription sleeping pills outweighs any potential risks. However, they are likely to prescribe as short a course as possible at the lowest possible dose to be effective.
Top 10 Sleep Tips for Pregnancy
Hopefully you can now understand why so many women experience sleep problems during pregnancy. However, all is not lost. There are actually plenty of steps you can take to sleep longer and better throughout your pregnancy. Here are our favorite expert-approved tips for sleep during pregnancy.
1. Reduce fluid intake before bed
It’s vital to drink plenty of water to maintain a healthy pregnancy. In fact, dehydration can be dangerous when you’re carrying a baby. However, it can help to drink more during the day and then reduce fluid intake a couple of hours before going to bed. This means that you’re less likely to need to make frequent trips to the bathroom during the night.
2. Use pillows to get comfy
Pillows are a pregnant mom’s best friend when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep. You can buy special pillows designed to make pregnant women more comfortable at night. However, regular pillows can do a good job as well. Try using extra pillows to support your back and bump. Placing a pillow between your knees while lying on your side can also help to reduce back and hip pain which may be keeping you awake.
3. Keep active
Getting plenty of exercise can boost circulation and help to improve your mood, reducing any stress and anxiety which may be keeping you up. Keeping active can make it easier to fall and remain asleep at night. It’s best to avoid strenuous exercise to close to bedtime or it could have the opposite effect to the one you are hoping for.
Before embarking on an exercise regime for pregnancy, you should consult your healthcare provider to check that it’s safe or your personal circumstances. Some women prefer to work with a personal trainer or fitness instructor with expertise in prenatal fitness.
4. Keep bed just for sleep
If you’re finding it hard to nod off at night, it could be because your brain doesn’t associate your bed with going to sleep. If you’re using your bed for other activities such as watching TV or reading, your brain won’t receive the message that it’s time to go to sleep when you snuggle down for the night. So, only get into bed when you’re ready to drift off.
5. Avoid spice in the evenings
Spicy food can upset your digestion and make acid reflux worse, especially if you eat it just before going to bed at night. If you’re being kept awake by heartburn, it could be worth examining your diet to see if spicy food could be the culprit. Swap your spicy meals for more bland foods such as rice, crackers and bananas before bed and see if that helps to improve your heartburn.
6. Establish a sleep routine
Try to go to sleep and get up at the same time every day, even at the weekends. This will help to reset your body clock so that your body knows to expect to sleep when bedtime arrives. Hopefully, this should make nodding off at night that little bit easier.
7. If you can’t sleep, get up
Although it may sound counter-intuitive, if you really can’t sleep then lying in bed worrying about it won’t make sleep come any faster. Instead, get up and do something soothing for a while such as reading or knitting and try again in half an hour. You may find it’s much easier to nod off to sleep then.
8. Cut out caffeine
Some expectant moms choose to eliminate all caffeine during pregnancy. If you haven’t quit your regular cup of joe, you may decide to do so for the sake of your sleep. Caffeine acts as a stimulant and makes it much harder to get the shut-eye you need if you’ve consumed it recently. If you really can’t kick the habit, try to restrict any caffeinated foods and beverages to mornings only. That way you can enjoy them without any negative effects on your nightly sleep.
9. Reduce screen-time
Screens from devices such as laptop computers, tablets and smartphones emit blue light. Experts believe that this stimulates the brain and can make it harder to fall asleep. Of course, most of us rely on our devices and to cut them out altogether is likely to be unrealistic and unnecessary. However, switching off screens an hour or so before bed in favor of other activities can make it easier to nod off later.
10. Ask for help
If you’ve tried common-sense measures to improve your sleep during pregnancy and they haven’t worked, or your sleep is severely restricted, you should seek help and advice from your healthcare provider. Sleep deprivation during pregnancy is not healthy and your doctor may be able to advise a suitable therapy or treatment to get your sleep back on track. Additionally, some sleep disorders can be a sign of a more serious health condition requiring medical treatment.
Sleep Products For Pregnant Women
Fortunately, there are several fantastic products that you can buy to improve your sleep during pregnancy. Some of these products are designed to ease stress or anxiety or create a calming sleeping environment. Others are designed to increase your physical comfort in bed to make a restful sleep easier to achieve. Here are our top-recommended options:
• Maternity pajamas
Maternity pajamas or nightdresses are a must-have during pregnancy. These have extra space for your growing bump so that there are no uncomfortable or tight areas that might interfere with your sleep.
• Maternity pillows
There is a wide choice of different body pillows available to help make you more comfortable at night. Some women like to use a wedge-shaped pillow to prop them up in bed to relieve any heartburn or congestion that’s interfering with their sleep. These types of pillows can also be placed between the knees when you’re lying on your side, relieving back and hip pain.
Alternatively, you may opt for a whole-body u-shaped pillow. These cradle your whole body and provide support for your back and growing baby bump. An advantage of this type of pillow is that in can be used to support nursing once baby is born.
• White noise machine
Some people find that white noise helps them to fall and stay asleep more easily. For this reason, a white noise machine or phone app may be of use to pregnant women who are having trouble sleeping. As white noise can also be effective in helping babies fall asleep, this product may come in handy after the birth as well.
• Nasal congestion strips
Nasal congestion can make getting enough sleep during pregnancy really difficult. However, some doctors advise against using certain decongestant medications during pregnancy. Nasal congestion strips are an effective way of relieving nasal congestion without medication as they hold the nasal passages open, helping you to breathe more easily during the night.
• Lavender oil
Not all essential oils are safe to use during pregnancy. However, lavender oil is pregnancy-friendly, and some people find that the smell helps them to relax and fall asleep more easily. A few drops massaged into the skin can also help to relieve the itching common during pregnancy.
If you like the idea of using aromatherapy to help you sleep, always consult a qualified aromatherapist with experience in working with pregnant women. They will be able to recommend a blend of oils that is both effective and safe to be used while you’re expecting.
• Bamboo sheets
Although a little pricey, these could be a real god-send if you’re struggling with overheating during your pregnancy. Many women find these sheets more breathable than even cotton sheets, which means heat can wick away more easily leaving you cool and comfortable.
The Bottom Line
There’s no doubt that getting enough good-quality sleep during pregnancy can be a tall order. Unfortunately, it’s a fact of life that you will almost certainly experience some sleeping difficulties while you’ve got a bun in the oven. On the other hand, there are plenty of simple measures you can take to make sleep more comfortable. Establishing good sleep hygiene and habits also helps many pregnant women to get some much-needed shut-eye.
However, if you’ve tried everything on our list and nothing seems to be working, be sure to consult with your healthcare provider. Sleep is very important for a healthy mommy and baby, and it’s important to rule out any serious causes of your sleep problems.