For many women, sleep can be evasive during pregnancy. Physical discomfort, changing hormones, and excitement and anxiety about being a new mother lead to a host of sleep problems. In fact, it’s believed that at least 50 percent of pregnant women suffer from insomnia.
Sleep is an essential part of prenatal care. If you’re struggling to sleep well during pregnancy, you’re not alone. We’ll discuss common sleep problems for pregnant women, take a look at the best pregnancy sleeping positions, and share advice on how to get the best sleep possible during pregnancy.
A multitude of factors leads to insomnia during pregnancy. Beginning in the first trimester, fluctuating hormone levels cause generalized discomfort and other problems that can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. These may include:
As time wears on, expectant mothers may also experience back pain and have trouble finding a comfortable position to accommodate the growing baby bump, especially when the baby starts to kick at night. Anxiety about the upcoming labor, being a new mother, juggling work and home responsibilities, or other worries may keep your mind racing at night. In the third trimester, many pregnant women experience vivid, disturbing dreams that can further impair sleep quality.
While it’s common for most pregnant women to experience at least a few of the above symptoms, sometimes they may be related to a sleep disorder. Sleep disorders can be linked to further problems down the line for mother or baby, so it’s important to talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing any symptoms.
The most common sleep disorders that tend to occur during pregnancy are obstructive sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, and gastroesophageal reflux disorder.
Getting quality sleep during pregnancy is important for both mother and baby. For the mother, those sleepless nights end up leading to fatigue and daytime sleepiness. Sleep also plays a major role in memory, learning, appetite, mood, and decision-making – all important when preparing to welcome a newborn baby into your home.
Research shows that pregnant women who get too much or not enough sleep in early pregnancy are prone to developing high blood pressure in the third trimester. Severe sleep deprivation in early pregnancy may also raise the risk of preeclampsia, a condition that can lead to preterm delivery and lasting complications for the mother’s heart, kidney, and other organs.
Though more research is needed to control for other variables, poor sleep appears to be a risk factor for preterm birth, low birth weight, painful labor, cesarean delivery, and depression. Emerging evidence also suggests that poor sleep quality during pregnancy may predict sleep problems and crying in babies once they are born.
There are a number of ways to reduce sleep problems while pregnant. Principal strategies include adjustments to sleeping position and sleep hygiene habits. In conjunction with good sleep hygiene, managing pregnancy-related sleep disorders is key to getting better sleep while pregnant.
Certain therapies have proven effective for treating sleep disorders, such as a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device for OSA, antacids for GERD, or vitamin and mineral supplements for RLS and other conditions. Although there are many theories, the reason for leg cramps and RLS during pregnancy remains unclear. Suggested therapies include vitamin supplementation, heat therapy, and massage but there is no consensus about what is the best treatment.
As certain substances may pose a risk to the developing fetus, pregnant women should always consult with their doctor before taking any medication or herbal remedies to help with sleep.
Sleeping on the left side with the legs slightly curled is considered the best sleeping position in pregnancy. This position facilitates blood flow to the heart, kidneys, and uterus, and improves the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the fetus. Although not as optimal as the left side, sleeping on the right side during pregnancy is also acceptable.
It may be helpful to use a few extra pillows to get comfortable sleeping on your side, especially if you’re not accustomed to this sleeping position. Try tucking in a wedge pillow to support your belly, or adding a thin pillow between the knees to help relieve pressure on the lower back. Some women find it useful to hug a body pillow or place a pillow under the lower back.
As the uterus grows larger, sleeping on the back during pregnancy can cause backache and put pressure on the vena cava. The vena cava is one of the body’s principal veins, so this can interfere with blood flow and cause dizziness. While back sleeping is all right for brief stints, it’s best to avoid it if possible. Most pregnant women find that sleeping on the stomach is impractical once the baby bump reaches a certain size.
Sleep hygiene is more important than ever during pregnancy. In addition to pregnancy sleep aids such as specialized pillows or eye masks, the following habits may help reduce insomnia and improve overall sleep quality: