It seems like nearly every pregnant woman has heard the phrase “Sleep while you can”. While it may come from a well-meaning friend or loved one, it’s not always as easy as it sounds. In fact, many women experience pregnancy insomnia and other changes in sleep during pregnancy.
In this article, we’ll explore how your sleep may change during your pregnancy, why sleep is so important during this time, and small changes you can make to improve the quality of your sleep.
Common sleep concerns during pregnancy
While pregnancy can be a beautiful time, there are definitely some parts that aren’t quite as glamorous. Difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep is a common concern for pregnant women, and there are several different factors that could be contributing to these new sleep struggles—both physical and hormonal.
Difficulty getting comfortable
As your baby bump continues to grow, it can be harder to get comfortable at night—especially if you prefer to sleep on your stomach. If you aren’t normally a side sleeper, it may take a little getting used to, but it’s recommended to begin sleeping on your side—preferably your left side—during your third trimester. This helps reduce the pressure on your organs including your liver, kidneys and veins, ultimately allowing for more oxygen and nutrients to reach your developing baby.
Almost half of all pregnant women experience leg cramps, most commonly during the second and third trimesters. Although the exact cause hasn't been determined, it may be due to low calcium levels, weight gain, changes in circulation, or increased pressure on your nerves as the baby continues to grow heavier.
A combination of hormone changes and a growing baby makes heartburn a common struggle for pregnant women. This can cause a burning sensation in the chest or throat and leave you feeling extremely uncomfortable at times. Spicy, fatty, citric and greasy foods tend to make it worse and can make it difficult to fall asleep, especially if eaten close to bedtime.
Frequent need to urinate
As most pregnant women will tell you, the frequent need to urinate seems to start as soon as you become pregnant and lasts until your baby is born. This is caused by a combination of hormone changes and your growing little one putting pressure on your bladder. Unfortunately, the frequent bathroom trips don’t stop when you close your eyes for the night, so expect some night wakings—especially during the third trimester.
It’s normal to experience an increase in anxiety during pregnancy. After all, pregnancy comes with a lot of changes that can feel ovewhelming at times—although it will certainly be worth it when you are snuggling your sweet little one for the first time. Keep in mind that if your anxiety seems to be affecting your everyday life, it may be time to talk to your healthcare provider.
Why sleep is important during pregnancy
It’s no secret that sleep is crucial for a person’s overall physical and mental health. For pregnant women, the need for quality sleep only increases as their baby grows and develops within the womb.
In fact, research shows that a lack of sleep during pregnancy can lead to an increased risk for health issues, such as:
- Gestational diabetes mellitus
- High blood pressure and preeclampsia
- Anxiety and depression
- Longer labor and delivery process
- Higher cesarean rates
- Preterm labor
If you find yourself struggling to catch some zzz’s, there are ways to combat your sleep concerns and improve the overall quality of your sleep. (As always, if you have questions or concerns, please reach out to your healthcare provider.)
Tips to improve your sleep while pregnant
Feeling exhausted? Here are our top six tips for improving your sleep while pregnant.
Not only are there health benefits associated with exercising while pregnant, it can also help improve your sleep. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), you should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week during pregnancy. (If you’re new to exercising, start slow! And, as always, be sure to check with your healthcare provider before beginning new activity.)
Don’t eat right before bed
Indigestion and heartburn are common issues that affect pregnant women, especially during the third trimester. Focus on eating small meals throughout the day and avoid eating right before bedtime to decrease your risk of these issues.
Reduce fluids right before bed
We’ve all heard about how important it is to stay hydrated while you’re pregnant. However, you should be mindful of your fluid intake as it nears your bedtime to help reduce the frequency of your bathroom trips throughout the night. Aim to drink the majority of your fluids earlier in the day to ensure you stay hydrated without it affecting your sleep—because let’s face it, when you’re pregnant, you definitely don’t want another trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
It may be tempting to reach for a coffee or other caffeinated drink to give you a boost of energy after a restless night. However, it’s recommended that women reduce their caffeine intake during pregnancy due to the increased risk for complications, such as low birth weight or miscarriage.
Caffeine is a stimulant and a diuretic. This means that it increases your blood pressure and heart rate, which can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep, while it also increases the frequency of urination. To help reduce these issues, try to avoid caffeine for at least six hours before bedtime.
This is often easier said than done, especially as your belly continues to grow. However, making sure you have a comfortable sleep space can help improve your sleep and decrease some of those body aches that come with pregnancy.
Looking for some tips and tricks to improve your comfort levels? Here are some of our favorites:
- Replace your worn mattress. (Fun fact: Most mattresses should only last between 7 and 10 years.)
- Put your coziest sheets on your bed.
- Use a pregnancy pillow, which can help you find more comfortable sleeping positions, such as sleeping on your side.
- If you wake during the night, check your position and go back to sleep on your side.
- Pay the same attention to day time naps as you would to sleeping at night.
Create the perfect sleep environment
Once you have your bed just how you like it, don’t forget about the importance of creating a relaxing sleep environment.
Here are some of our favorite ways to improve your sleep environment.
- Avoid the use of tv, phone, or other electronics for at least 30 minutes before bed.
- Use a white noise machine.
- Control the light with blackout curtains or an eye mask.
- Keep the temperature cool at night. (According to the Sleep Foundation, the ideal bedroom temperature for sleep is around 65 degrees Fahrenheit.)
The bottom line
If you’re struggling with poor sleep, just know that you aren’t alone—sleep issues are a common concern throughout pregnancy. We hope these tips can help you feel more rested; however, if you are still having trouble sleeping or feel as though you need medical advice, talk to your healthcare provider. They may be able to recommend some additional strategies to help you get the rest you need.
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