Pregnancy brings joys and excitement, but it also brings with it fatigue and exhaustion. Sleep disturbances like sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and heartburn are common amongst pregnant women. Sleep deprivation is not only exhausting for the expectant mother but can put her and her baby at risk for preterm birth and gestational diabetes. However, there are steps you can take to help get better sleep while you’re expecting.
Sleep disturbances can start at any time during pregnancy. During the first trimester, an increase in the hormone progesterone causes daytime sleepiness and disrupts sleep at night. These sleep problems can continue throughout pregnancy and can lead to insomnia that manifests itself as a difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.
Other sleep problems may come from increased pressure on the bladder, which leaves many women waking several times each night to relieve themselves. Heartburn, leg cramps, and anxiety—the list can go on and on. While all these disturbances may be normal, sleep deprivation can have serious consequences for pregnant women.
A recent study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology reports a disturbing link between sleep disorders and the risk of preterm birth. The study showed that 14.6 percent of women with sleep disorders went into preterm labor versus only 10.9 percent of women who had regular sleep patterns. Researchers encouraged more rigorous sleep disorder screening for pregnant women to discover if there were treatable sleep disorders or behavioral modifications that could help women get more sleep.
When you’re expecting, you face more challenges than normal when it comes to getting a good night’s rest. You’re growing body changes almost daily, which makes getting comfortable no easy task. Many women find an extra pillow or a body pillow to keep between the knees helps relieve back discomfort at night. Also, keep the bedroom cool to counteract the overheating that many women experience.
Your increased appetite might work against you if you’re not careful. Avoid caffeine and chocolate late in the afternoon and evening. They can keep you awake or give you heartburn as you’re trying to settle down for the night. Try to eat dinner early so you have plenty of time to digest and reduce discomfort from a full stomach. If you need a light snack before bed, consider foods that promote good sleep. Dairy products like milk, yogurt, and ice cream have calcium that promotes the production of melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone.
You’ll also want to make sure you get regular exercise. Exercise is an important part of any pregnancy because it prepares the body for the tough work of delivery. However, it also helps make you tired at the end of the day. It’s best to exercise early in the day as working out too close to bedtime can pump your body full of endorphins that will keep you awake.
When you finally get to lay your head on the pillow, be sure to shut off your screens. The bright light from televisions, smartphones, and e-readers can confuse the brain causing it to suppress melatonin production. Turn off the screens an hour before bed and grab a good book to help lull yourself off to sleep.
Mary Lee is a researcher for the sleep science hub Tuck.com. She specializes in sleep’s role in mental and physical health and wellness. Mary lives in Olympia, WA, and shares her full-sized bed with a very noisy cat.
Tuck Sleep Foundation is a community devoted to improving sleep hygiene, health and wellness through the creation and dissemination of comprehensive, unbiased, free web-based resources. Tuck has been featured on NPR, Lifehacker, Radiolab and is referenced by many colleges/universities and sleep organizations across the web.