Why You May Find it Difficult to Sleep during Pregnancy
Sleep disturbance is very common during pregnancy, even for women who normally sleep well. As a 1998 National Sleep Foundation poll found, 78% of women have interrupted sleep during pregnancy and 51% of pregnant women nap at least once during the week.
Poor sleep has been linked to having negative effects on labor and delivery. A research study held at the University of California in San Francisco concluded that the labor of pregnant women was generally longer who slept less than six hours a night, and was 4.5 times more likely to end in a cesarean delivery.
Common physical symptoms causally related to pregnancy may interfere with sleep as well:
Leg cramps and backaches:
Pain in your legs or back are caused in part by the extra weight you’re carrying. During pregnancy, the body also produces a hormone called relaxin, which helps prepare it for childbirth. One of the effects of relaxin is the loosening of ligaments throughout the body, making pregnant women less stable and more prone to injury, especially in their backs.
Increased heart rate:
Your heart rate increases during pregnancy to pump more blood, and as more of your blood supply goes to the uterus, your heart will be working harder to send sufficient blood to the rest of your body.
The frequent urge to urinate:
Your kidneys are working harder to filter the increased volume of blood (30% to 50% more than you had before pregnancy) moving through your body, and this filtering process results in more urine. Also, as your baby grows and the uterus gets bigger, the pressure on your bladder increases. This means more trips to the bathroom, day and night. The number of nighttime trips may be greater if your baby is particularly active at night.
Heartburn and constipation:
Many women experience heartburn, which occurs when the stomach contents reflux back up into the esophagus. The entire digestive system slows down during pregnancy, food tends to remain in the stomach and intestines longer, which may cause heartburn or constipation. These can both get worse later on in the pregnancy when the growing uterus presses on the stomach or the large intestine.
Shortness of breath:
At first, your breathing may be affected by the increase in pregnancy hormones, which will cause you to breathe in more deeply. This might make you feel as if you’re working harder to get air. Later on, breathing can feel more difficult as your enlarging uterus takes up more space, resulting in pressure against your diaphragm (the muscle just below your lungs).
Each trimester of pregnancy brings its own unique sleep challenges as hormonal changes and physical discomforts can affect a pregnant woman’s quality of sleep.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the following are the most common sleep changes that may occur in each trimester:
Sleep during the 1st Trimester of Pregnancy
- Disruptions in sleep as a result of physical and emotional stress associated with pregnancy.
- Frequent waking due to an increased need to urinate.
- Increased daytime sleepiness.
Sleep during the 2nd Trimester of Pregnancy
Sleep during the second trimester of pregnancy improves for many women since urination at night becomes less of a problem as the growing fetus reduces pressure on the bladder by moving above it. The quality of sleep may still remain poor as a result of the increasing size of the baby and emotional stress associated with pregnancy.
Sleep during the 3rd Trimester of Pregnancy
Most sleep problems are more likely to occur during this trimester as a result of the following:
- Heartburn, leg cramps, and sinus congestion
- Discomfort due to your growing belly.
- Frequent nighttime urination returns, as the baby’s position changes to put pressure on the bladder once again.
Stress can interfere with sleep, also. Maybe you’re anxious about your abilities as a parent, worried about your baby’s health, or feeling nervous about the delivery itself. These feelings are all normal, but they impact on how much you (and your partner) get sleep at night.
You’re bound to have trouble sleeping at some point during your pregnancy, especially during the first and third trimesters. Wide awake at 3 a.m.? Is it impossible for you to get comfortable because of a watermelon where your stomach use to be? Or is nausea, heartburn, or a constant need to urinate keeping you up at night?
Don’t despair: You can do something to improve the quality of your sleep.
The good news is that, with the exception of sleep apnea, a mother’s loss of sleep does not negatively impact the fetus, although drugs given to counteract sleep problems may, as well as indirect effects like forgetfulness, irritability and recklessness from the mother’s continued poor sleep.
Sleep apnea, which may lead to a diminished or inconsistent oxygen supply, can also have negative effects for the fetus.
This pattern leads to general fatigue and poor sleep. Sleep apnea is a common disorder in which breathing becomes very shallow or continually stops throughout the night. Women who were excessively heavy before pregnancy are specifically at risk as it is especially common in people who are overweight. If you are unsure whether or not you have sleep apnea, look for some common symptoms. Besides the biggest indicator, which is intermittent breathing with long pauses, you may also notice some or all of these: extreme nasal congestion, enlarged neck, high blood pressure, headaches, and fluid in the legs.
It is very important to inform your doctor if you suspect that you have sleep apnea; an overnight screening can be conducted and treatment can proceed from there. Sleep apnea and other causes of poor sleep can be kept at bay by eating well and exercising regularly, which helps to keep down weight gain. Also make sure you wear the right maternity outfit to keep you comfortable such as Maternity sleep bras.
Safe Solutions for Sleeplessness during Pregnancy
Because of the potential for harming a fetus, it is typically not safe for pregnant or nursing women to be treated with drugs for insomnia or other sleep disorders. Vitamins, natural care and practicing good sleep hygiene are helpful for many causes of sleep problems. Just remember to get your doctor’s approval.
Lower your chances of suffering from heartburn by sleeping with your head elevated above your chest, avoiding foods that are spicy, acid, or greasy, and by eating several small meals instead of three large ones. If you do develop heartburn, antacids will relieve the symptoms.
Women most likely to develop restless leg syndrome are those who are prone to anemia due to insufficient iron, so taking an iron supplement, or better yet, eating foods that are good sources of folate, (cereals, whole grains, and breads), is a good idea. Eating more vitamin C and avoiding coffee can also help, as coffee hinders and vitamin C assists the body’s ability to absorb folate.
Nasal congestion may be helped by use of neti pots with saline rinse solutions or a saline nasal spray, but always avoid decongestants unless they are approved by your doctor.
If you are a candidate for sleep apnea, be evaluated for treatment. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is a safe, effective treatment for sleep apnea during pregnancy.
How to Improve Sleep during Pregnancy
Do everything you can to keep yourself healthy, in addition to getting all the sleep you can. Drink water and other fluids throughout the day, but not in the time before you’re planning to sleep. Eat healthy foods, take a prenatal vitamin daily, and schedule regular prenatal follow up appointments with your doctor. Force yourself to exercise for at least half an hour a day.
Make yourself as comfortable as possible at bedtime. Sleep on your left side to improve blood and nutrient flow to the uterus and kidneys while avoiding laying on your back for longer periods of time. Take pressure off your lower back by cushioning yourself wherever necessary with pillows–behind the back, under the belly, and between the knees.
Do something that may cause you to become sleepy naturally if you’re having trouble falling asleep, don’t try to force it. Try taking a warm bath, reading, or simply getting up for a while. If you try not to nap near bedtime hours, it may help you to feel tired at night.
Postpartum Sleeplessness and What to Do
The delivery and the six months following delivery is considered the postpartum period. Many women continue to have problems sleeping in this stretch of time, both because of the physical toll that delivery takes on the body and the demands of a newborn baby.
Fatigue a common complaint due to the blood loss that occurs in childbirth combined with the hormones that were so abundant during pregnancy now diminished. Continue to take vitamins and eat a balanced diet of healthy foods to cope with these problems and to keep your body functioning without vitamin or mineral deficits.
Taking the baby out for a half hour walk in the morning is a good way to both get exercise and get back on a schedule that will improve your sleep pattern. This is a good way to exercise regularly, though not strenuously. Try to nap in the day when the baby sleeps in order to make up for the sleep you need, if this is at all possible. Don’t expect that your baby will sleep through the night right away; this often takes upwards of four months.