For soon-to-be mothers, pregnancy can be equal parts exciting and stressful, and those emotions combined with the inevitable changes your body undergoes during pregnancy can make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep.
Of course, some sleeplessness during pregnancy is to be expected. (After all, you are growing a whole other human inside your body!). In fact, upwards of 94% of women have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep when pregnant.
At the same time, studies show that sleep is one of the most important factors for a healthy pregnancy. Lack of sleep during pregnancy can lead to preeclampsia (which affects your blood pressure and kidneys) and gestational diabetes. Sleep deprivation is also tied to increased rates of cesarean section and preterm labor.
That’s why, although sleeping during pregnancy can be difficult, it’s important to prioritize healthy sleep habits for your own health and the health of your baby.
Let’s talk about why sleep during pregnancy is so elusive and what you can do to get a better night’s rest.
What Causes Sleeplessness During Pregnancy?
Your body is changing constantly throughout a full-term pregnancy. Some of these bodily changes are visible from a glance, but others are impossible to see with the naked eye.
Your hormones, for example, are ongoing drastic changes to prepare your body for pregnancy and delivery. Your stress and anxiety levels may also be at an all-time high. All of these factors, and more tie into why you aren’t sleeping well during pregnancy.
To better understand what’s keeping you up at night, let’s dive into some of the most common reasons for pregnancy sleeplessness.
Hormonal changes, particularly during the first trimester, are among the leading causes of insomnia among pregnant women. The sharp increase of progesterone and estrogen during the first trimester can lead to drowsiness and frequent naps throughout the day. Then, when it comes time for bed, you may not be as tired as you’d like to be.
It’s common for pregnant women to suffer from frequent heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) through the course of pregnancy. During pregnancy, changing hormones cause the digestive system and the esophagus muscles to slow down. Then, as the fetus grows, it pushes against the stomach and forces the stomach acid back up the throat.
Unfortunately, pain and pregnancy go together. Your body is growing and adapting to the fetus inside you, and you’ll start putting on weight you might not be used to carrying around. Back pain is the most common, but many report stabbing pains around their stomach, uterus, and groin. This is generally due to cramping, bloating, and constipation. If it persists, it’s best to call your doctor.
Restless Leg Syndrome
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) occurs when you experience sudden sensations in your legs at night. These sensations include leg cramps, itching, burning, and even “creepy crawling” tingles. While more research is needed to uncover the underlying causes, it’s believed that RLS during pregnancy is caused by rising estrogen levels and a lack of folic acid.
Frequent Trips to the Bathroom
Frequent urination is one of those issues that will affect most women during the later stages of their pregnancy. The growing uterus is pushing against your bladder, making the need to urinate more frequent. Waking up in the middle of the night to urinate can make it harder to fall back to sleep, especially if you already struggled to fall asleep the first time..
How to Sleep More Comfortably During Pregnancy
While there isn’t much you can do about frequent urination and fluctuating hormones, there are a few tips you can use to help you sleep comfortably while pregnant.
1. Choose the Right Sleeping Positions
If you’re a stomach sleeper, you’ll probably find yourself naturally having to switch sleeping positions sometime after the first trimester of pregnancy. That’s because sleeping on your stomach when your baby bump starts to form will be a challenge.
The best sleep position for pregnant women is side sleeping, particularly sleeping on your left side. Because your liver is located on the right side of your abdomen, sleeping on your left side will take unnecessary pressure off one of the most important organs in your body. Sleeping on your side (either left or right) also makes it easier for blood and nutrients to reach your placenta.
Sleeping on your back can increase pressure on the vena cava, which is a large vein that carries deoxygenated blood to the heart, and cause what’s known as “aortocaval compression syndrome.” Some recent studies have even shown that sleeping on your back, especially after 28 weeks, can increase the risk of stillbirth.
However, it’s expected that you’ll switch sleeping positions throughout the night, so you shouldn’t be alarmed if you wake up sleeping on your back. The discomfort will likely wake you up, so simply turn to your side to fall back asleep.
2. Try a Pregnancy Pillow
Pregnancy pillows are full-body pillows that will conform to and support your changing body during pregnancy and allow you to sleep comfortably. If you aren’t used to sleeping on your side, a pregnancy pillow can make it easier to adapt to this new sleeping position.
Pregnancy pillows come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including wedge, I-shaped, U-shaped, C-shaped, and J-shaped. Depending on where you’re experiencing the most aches or pains on your body, you’ll want to find a pillow designed to alleviate pressure in that area.
3. Avoid Large Meals Prior to Bedtime, and Limit Spicy Foods
As mentioned, many women already experience gastrointestinal issues during pregnancy, and spicy foods are notorious for causing heartburn. If you’re struggling with acid reflux, heartburn, or GERD during pregnancy, it’s best to cut spicy foods out of your diet completely (at least for the next 9 months).
It’s also best to avoid large meals close to bedtime. That’s because the body digests food better when sitting upright. Laying down immediately after a large meal can cause the acid from the stomach to leak up into the esophagus, resulting in the burning sensation known as heartburn.
If nighttime hunger is going to keep you awake, stick to light snacks like cheese and crackers, fruit, and low-fat yogurts. Ideally, you should plan your snack time for no later than an hour before laying down for bed.
4. Establish a Calming Bedtime Routine and Sleep Environment
Research has shown that proper sleep hygiene is essential to having a restful night’s sleep even outside of pregnancy. This includes creating a sleep-inducing environment by turning the TV (and any other blue light-emitting devices) off an hour before bed and sleeping in a dark, quiet room. You could also try a more relaxing activity like a warm bath or light reading before bed to quiet your mind and prepare to sleep.
5. Talk to Your Doctor
Keep in mind, having trouble sleeping during pregnancy is normal. However, if these problems persist, they will take a toll on your mental and physical health and the health of your baby.
Your doctor may be able to identify underlying causes by running vitamin deficiency tests and offer solutions that are safe for both you and the baby.
Don’t take any sleep aids, even over-the-counter medications or supplements, without first talking to your doctor.
Make Sleep a Priority
It’s unfair that during a point in your life when sleep is most important, your body is undergoing changes that make sleep more difficult. However, that doesn’t mean that a good night’s sleep during pregnancy is impossible.
How you’re supposed to sleep when pregnant will change from individual to individual and will likely shift as you get closer to your due date. In general, though, you should make restful sleep a priority by maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, avoiding daytime activities that interfere with sleep (like eating spicy foods or taking excessive naps), and creating a comfortable, relaxing sleep environment.