For new parents, sleep deprivation is an unfortunate reality. For many parents, sleep problems begin before your new bundle of joy arrives. Many factors cause sleep problems during pregnancy: hormone fluctuations, body changes, and rising stress levels can cause physiological changes that can disrupt sleep throughout pregnancy. For soon-to-be moms, getting enough sleep is essential. Sleep deprivation has been linked to higher risks of postpartum depression, elevated BMI, and high blood pressure in newborns.
Getting good, quality sleep during pregnancy is possible. The following tips can help you get the sleep you need to have a healthy pregnancy and baby.
For more tips, skip to the infographic below.
During pregnancy, women may experience sleep problems they never had before. These sleep problems are normal and almost all pregnant women experience some form of sleep disturbance, like frequently waking up at night. Not to mention heartburn, being uncomfortable due to body changes, and aches and pains.
Sleep problems in pregnancy are obviously temporary but do evolve as pregnancy progresses into each trimester. Here’s a rundown of what to expect sleep-wise during each trimester and how to cope.
It doesn’t take long for the effects of pregnancy to develop. Early pregnancy symptoms include morning sickness, frequent urination, and breast tenderness that make sleeping more difficult. The fatigue of the first trimester can be challenging, as many women do not announce their pregnancy until the second trimester.
Here are some symptoms that can interfere with your sleep and a few tips to help you cope.
The classic “morning sickness” symptom of pregnancy can actually last long into the day (and night). To help settle your stomach, eat smaller, frequent meals or keep some crackers nearby to eat at night if you wake up feeling sick.
During early pregnancy, many women experience fatigue due to changing hormones and your body needing more nutrients. Feeling tired can make you want to go to bed earlier and then wake up earlier. This might take some getting used to depending on your schedule, but it’s best to listen to your body and sleep when you need it.
Another common symptom of early pregnancy, frequent urination is caused by an increase in progesterone and human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) or the pregnancy hormone. It is difficult to stop this symptom, but the best way to decrease urination, especially at night, is to limit fluids before bed.
A pounding headache is annoying-even more so when you’re in early pregnancy and dealing with other uncomfortable symptoms. There are multiple causes of early pregnancy headaches, including hormone shifts, caffeine withdrawal, low blood sugar/dehydration caused by vomiting, nasal congestion, or increased blood pressure. Ask your doctor what medications you can safely take while pregnant to counteract a headache. Also, make a note of anything that might be causing your headaches to keep yourself accountable.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, 17% of women reported breast pain and tenderness as their first pregnancy symptom. Breasts might be painful in early pregnancy due to rising amounts of estrogen, progesterone, and prolactin. Your body begins preparing to breastfeed from the beginning of pregnancy. This causes increased blood supply to the breasts, increased breast size, and growing milk ducts. To help ease breast pain/tenderness in pregnancy, try getting a new, more supportive bra or wearing a sports bra while sleeping.
Before the baby bump even appears, many pregnant women experience bloating and constipation. This is due to slowed digestion, which is your body’s natural process to ensure it gets enough of the nutrients it needs from food to support a developing baby. To help ease constipation and discomfort, make sure to eat enough fiber and drink plenty of water.
The second trimester of pregnancy is an exciting period, with morning sickness subsiding and the baby bump starting to appear. Overall, the second trimester is much easier than the first, but there are still some sleep issues that can cause sleepless nights. Even with the following sleep problems, women get an average of 7.5 hours of sleep each night during the second trimester. During this time, it’s important to get as much sleep as you can to rest up for what’s coming up next.
Here are a few things that can interfere with sleep in the second trimester.
Leg cramps are common in pregnancy due to low magnesium levels. These muscle spasms can also be caused by muscle fatigue from carrying extra weight and compression of blood vessels. The best way to ease these cramps is to take a magnesium supplement as your body might be lacking in this essential nutrient due to pregnancy. Regularly stretching and staying hydrated can also help prevent leg cramps in pregnancy.
Anxiety is common in pregnancy. A rapidly changing mood and anxiety can leave you feeling drained. This can be especially hard to control and even more difficult to stop completely. There are some things you can do to help ease anxiety caused by mood swings. Reach out to your support system to discuss what’s stressing you out.
Try guided visualization, deep breathing, or mindfulness methods to reduce stress. A prenatal yoga group may be a good opportunity to meet other soon-to-be moms. According to research, your coping style has a direct effect on your stress levels, which impacts sleep quality.
Pregnancy puts a strain on your body. Even if you are in good shape and are overall healthy, carrying a baby can still cause pain. One way to counteract this to focus on core strength exercises. Many think that your core is only made up of your abdominal muscles, but “the core” is made up of the hips, lower back, lats, and upper legs. These muscles help stabilize your entire body and are some of the largest muscles in the body. Studies have shown that women with stronger core muscles have easier pregnancies and are less likely to require a Caesarean delivery.
Strengthen your core muscles by performing abdominal exercises, squats, deadlifts, and back exercises.
Everyday functioning during the second trimester is much easier than the first. Overall, women report feeling much better and more like themselves, experiencing fatigue is still not uncommon in the second trimester. This is still due to a changing body and constantly varied hormone levels. Many pregnant women still report experiencing fatigue in the second trimester. While you need your sleep, you can help counteract pregnancy fatigue by engaging in moderate exercise, especially in the morning or afternoon, to help keep stable energy levels.
Studies show that 40-50% of pregnant women experience vivid dreams and nightmares. With all the physical changes happening in pregnancy, your mind is going through some as well. One theory is that pregnancy hormones affect how your brain processes information and emotions, leading to more vivid and frequent dreams/ nightmares when you’re pregnant. Another reason for these weird dreams is a disrupted sleep routine.
Without maintaining a normal sleep pattern, or when you wake up more often throughout the night, your REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep will be interrupted. Dreams happen during REM sleep, and if the frequency or duration of REM sleep varies or is disturbed often during the night, it may affect how much you dream when pregnant. It may also impact your capacity to recall your dreams, giving the impression that you’re having more vivid dreams. While there is no one to stop or control your dreams, make sure you are getting enough sleep. To make sure you’re spending enough time in REM sleep, try using a sleep tracker app or fitness tracker.
This is the most challenging part of pregnancy. As your weight increases and the pressure of the developing baby begins to have a direct effect on muscles, joints, and blood flow, the third trimester of pregnancy brings a lot of sleep challenges. Here’s what to expect during the final months of pregnancy before you meet your newest family member!
Restless legs syndrome causes an uncontrollable urge to move the legs. It manifests while the body is at rest, making it almost difficult to fall asleep. This uncomfortable condition affects as many as one in three women in the third trimester, according to research. Restless legs syndrome is often caused by iron deficiency, which is common in pregnancy. The best way to counteract this is to take prenatal vitamins and eat iron-rich foods like red meat and spinach.
Heartburn is common in the third trimester as digestion is still slowed down and because organs shift during pregnancy to make room for the growing baby. Up to 45% of women experience heartburn in the third trimester. While heartburn is difficult to prevent, most women find relief with medications and lifestyle changes such as not eating before bed, avoiding trigger foods like spicy and acidic foods, and sleeping on your left side.
During pregnancy, a large percentage of women experience snoring and sleep apnea. Snoring in pregnancy has been linked to elevated blood pressure and preeclampsia. Sleep apnea can make you feel tired due to lack of oxygen and poor sleep quality. Sleep apnea in pregnancy is caused by a growing uterus. Those with more severe sleep apnea can use a CPAP machine to help with breathing. Rolling over onto your side expands the windpipe and relieves sleep apnea symptoms.
For many pregnant women, their baby begins kicking and moving as soon as they lie down to sleep. Daytime movements soothe babies in the womb so they end up sleeping most of the day. Night time silence can startle them and wake them up causing more movements at night. Feeling your baby move about may be soothing for some women, but it can make it difficult to fall asleep for others. According to the University of Auckland, 79% of pregnant women felt increased fetal movement at bedtime. To calm your baby, try moving around for a few minutes or have a light snack.
There are a variety of methods for reducing sleep disturbances during pregnancy and getting the sleep you need. Here are a few extra tips to help.
While it may be tempting to turn to a pharmaceutical or herbal supplement to help you sleep, they are generally not recommended for pregnant women. Effects of sleep aids on pregnant women are not fully known as there is limited research. Sleep aids are often unreliable and might end up doing more harm than good. If you feel you need a sleep aid in pregnancy, talk to your doctor.
Pregnant women can safely consume up to 200 mg of caffeine per day, according to The March of Dimes. Consuming too much caffeine during pregnancy can cause increased blood pressure, dehydration, increased risk of miscarriage, and low birth weight.
Hormonal changes, coupled with a growing uterus, cause the whole digestive system to slow down during pregnancy. Symptoms include constipation, indigestion, and heartburn. Dietary changes can help improve digestion and ease symptoms.
Here’s what you can do to improve digestion during pregnancy:
Sleep hygiene is a set of routines and behaviors that help you get a good night's sleep. Sleep hygiene is crucial for everyone, especially during pregnancy.
These tips will help improve your sleep hygiene:
A brief afternoon nap may help with pregnancy fatigue due to poor sleep at night. Too many naps during pregnancy have been linked to hyperglycemia. Taking long naps may make it harder to fall asleep at night. One study found a connection between sleeping more than nine hours uninterrupted and an increased risk of stillbirth.
Pregnancy is a tough time, especially for getting quality sleep. Now that you need sleep more than ever, it can be difficult to get it. With your expanding belly, finding a safe and comfortable sleeping position may be difficult, and not every posture is suitable during pregnancy. Looking to get comfortable? Here are the best positions for sleep during pregnancy.
Try to avoid sleeping on your back during pregnancy. Back sleeping during pregnancy can cause breathing difficulties, digestive problems, hemorrhoids, low blood pressure, backaches, and a reduction in circulation to your heart and baby. Your expanding abdomen rests on your intestines and main blood arteries. As your bump grows, you may develop sleep apnea.
During pregnancy, the recommended sleep position is on the left side with the legs slightly curled. This position increases oxygen and nutrients to the baby by facilitating blood flow to the heart, kidneys, and uterus. If you're not used to sleeping on your side, try using extra pillows. To support your stomach, put a wedge cushion in between your knees, or place a small pillow between your knees to alleviate strain on your lower back.
Stomach sleeping may be fine for the first few months of pregnancy until the increasing baby bump makes this position uncomfortable. Your breasts get more sensitive as your pregnancy progresses, and your abdomen continues to expand, making sleeping on your stomach uncomfortable. A donut-shaped pillow (with a hole in the center) may make sleeping on your stomach more comfortable.
Pregnancy is both an exciting and anxious time. Moms-to-be have hundreds of questions about their experiences, pregnancy, and symptoms. Luckily, there are hundreds of websites and resources available to help with health advice, sleep, and more.
Here are some resources that may be beneficial for soon-to-be-moms.
Sleeping on your left side is the best way to sleep during pregnancy. It improves blood flow by reducing the uterus's weight off the right side. If sleeping on your side isn’t natural for you, try a pregnancy pillow.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, most pregnant women need 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
Feeling tired during pregnancy is due to hormonal changes and the body needs extra nutrients to support the development of the baby. Fatigue is completely normal during pregnancy; it’s one of the earliest indications that you’re expecting.
It is not recommended to take sleep aids or supplements/medications to counteract fatigue or to induce sleep during pregnancy.
Sleeping during pregnancy can be a challenge. As your body changes, sleep can become harder to get, especially quality sleep. The tips outlined in this guide will help guide soon-to-be-moms on how to get the best sleep possible. If you’re having extreme symptoms, noticing changes in sleeping patterns, or a decrease in fetal movement, see your doctor to rule out any serious health concerns.
Looking for more sleep advice? Check out our guide on best mattresses for heavy people.