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Home / Pregnancy and Sleep / Pregnancy Sleep Positions

Pregnancy Sleep Positions

Jay Summer

Written by

Jay Summer, Staff Writer

Dr. Nilong Vyas

Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Nilong Vyas, Pediatrician

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Most people require extra sleep to meet the physical demands of pregnancy. However, as pregnancy progresses, sleep can be harder to come by. More than two-thirds of pregnant people experience sleep problems over the course of their pregnancy. Without good sleep, it can be difficult to remain alert and productive throughout the day.

Many factors can disrupt sleep during pregnancy, including nighttime bathroom trips, nausea, heartburn, lower back pain, and leg cramps. Moreover, as their bodies grow and change to accommodate the fetus, many pregnant people have trouble finding a comfortable sleep position. Unsurprisingly, these factors can make it difficult to obtain enough high-quality sleep.

We examine the best pregnancy sleeping positions and discuss why experts recommend avoiding certain sleep positions during pregnancy. We also talk about how pregnant people can get comfortable so they can get the sleep they need.

Best Sleep Position During Pregnancy

Most experts agree that once the abdomen starts to expand, it is best to sleep on the left side with knees bent. Not only is side sleeping more comfortable, it also helps improve blood flow for the pregnant person and the fetus.

Stomach sleeping is also considered safe during early pregnancy, but it eventually becomes impossible, usually some time during the second trimester.

Sleeping on the Left vs. Right Side

Sleeping on the left side during pregnancy facilitates blood flow, ensuring that vital organs and the baby receive the nutrients and oxygen they need. This position also decreases the likelihood of swelling in the ankles and legs.

Sleeping on the right side can put pressure on the liver, so it is not optimal. But experts generally agree that it is safe to sleep on the right side for short intervals.

 

Sleep Positions to Avoid

In addition to discouraging right-side sleeping for long periods of time, health care providers typically caution against back sleeping during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy.

As pregnancy progresses, back sleeping causes the weight of the uterus to place pressure on a main artery called the aorta and an important vein called the vena cava. This compression can make it harder for the heart to pump blood to the pregnant person and the fetus.

Moreover, back sleeping can put pressure on the spine. This position may lead to or exacerbate lower back pain, which affects a majority of pregnant people. Back sleeping is also associated with a higher chance of snoring or other breathing problems during sleep.

Some pregnant people experience discomfort and dizziness while on their backs, so may be less inclined to sleep in that position. But many naturally gravitate to sleeping on their backs and may unintentionally end up in this position. In the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, people who wake up on their backs should simply return to their sides.

Though some experts say it is best not to lie on the back from 20 weeks onward, a recent study found that back and right side sleeping during the first 30 weeks of pregnancy probably do not raise the risk of stillbirth. Based on this research, some experts advise pregnant people to choose the sleep position that is most comfortable for them during the first two trimesters of pregnancy.

How to Find a Comfortable Position

If you are accustomed to sleeping on your stomach or back, adjusting to side sleeping may be a challenge. Even if you normally sleep on your side, it might be difficult to find a comfortable sleeping position during pregnancy. However, there are some strategies that can help alleviate discomfort, increasing the likelihood of a good night’s sleep.

  • Bend your knees: Health care providers recommend side sleeping with one or both knees bent, which can help support your back.
  • Use pillows: To reduce discomfort and pain, you can place a pillow between your legs, against your lower back, or beneath your abdomen. You can also try a full-body pillow, many of which are designed specifically to support pregnant sleepers.
  • Find a comfortable mattress or mattress topper: Materials that relieve pressure points, such as egg crate mattress toppers, may help relieve hip pain brought on by side sleeping.
  • Elevate your upper body: If you have heartburn at night, try raising the head end of your mattress or bed. Sleeping slightly upright may help relieve your symptoms.
  • Sleep on the left side of the bed: You may be more likely to sleep on your left side if you move to the left side of the bed.

Sleep Better During Pregnancy

In addition to figuring out what position and configuration best support sleep during pregnancy, a number of other practices may help you sleep better.

Keep a Regular Sleep Schedule

Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can help you take advantage of your natural sleep-wake cycle and fall asleep more easily. Additionally, enjoying a soothing beverage or a warm bath before bedtime can further reinforce sleep cues and signal to your body that it is time to wind down. If you decide to take baths during pregnancy, be sure to ask your doctor about the appropriate temperature for your body and the fetus.

Make the Bedroom a Sanctuary

Reserving your bed for only sleep and sex helps limit unhelpful mental associations with work and other daytime activities. Removing bright lights, limiting noise, and keeping digital distractions out of the bedroom can also encourage sound sleep.

Nap as Needed

If you have trouble sleeping through the night, you can nap during the day to make up for lost rest. Ideally, naps should be taken earlier in the day to reduce negative impacts on nighttime sleep.

Use Relaxation Exercises to Manage Stress

Stress prevents many pregnant people from sleeping soundly. Relaxation exercises may help calm your body in preparation for sleep. A health care provider can also provide resources to help navigate stress regarding pregnancy and upcoming life changes.

Minimize Food and Drinks in the Evening

While it is important to stay hydrated throughout the day, drinking too many fluids or eating a big meal at night can make it harder to sleep. Small, plain snacks such as crackers might help ward off nausea during the night without exacerbating heartburn.

Limit Caffeine Intake

Caffeine interferes with sleep, so you may wish to reduce your consumption of coffee, tea, and caffeinated soft drinks. If you choose to drink caffeine during pregnancy, try limiting these drinks to the morning, when they are less likely to affect nighttime sleep.

Consider Prenatal Vitamins

Taking prenatal vitamins, such as iron and folic acid, not only helps the baby receive needed nutrients but may also alleviate the symptoms of restless legs syndrome, a sleep disorder that commonly affects pregnant people. Be sure to consult a health care provider before introducing any new supplements.

Exercise Regularly

Experts recommend that most pregnant people maintain a regular exercise routine throughout their pregnancy. It is best to avoid contact sports or otherwise risky activities, but yoga, swimming, and walking can be good options for physical activity during pregnancy.

Stretching and strengthening exercises, in particular, may help limit lower back pain and lower the chances of experiencing leg cramps. Targeting the trunk, abdominal, and back muscles may help your body better cope with the physical changes that take place during pregnancy.

While exercise generally helps promote sleep, avoid vigorous activity before bedtime so that your body has time to wind down. Additionally, before beginning a new exercise routine, ask your doctor what level of activity is safe for you.

Talk to Your Doctor

It is important to talk to a doctor if you have trouble getting quality sleep or have other symptoms of a sleep disorder, as some conditions have been linked to a higher risk of pregnancy complications. A health care provider can provide suggestions and treatments for pregnancy-related sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea, heartburn, or restless legs syndrome.

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About Our Editorial Team

author
Jay Summer

Staff Writer

Jay Summer is a health content writer and editor. She holds a B.S. in psychology and master's degrees in writing and public policy.

author
Dr. Nilong Vyas

Pediatrician

MD

Dr. Vyas is a pediatrician and founder of Sleepless in NOLA. She specializes in helping parents establish healthy sleep habits for children.

References

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