How To Sleep During Pregnancy
Any woman who has gone through a pregnancy will tell you that trouble sleeping can be one of the most challenging aspects of growing your baby. Causes of sleep deprivation in pregnancy range from worries and anxiety about motherhood to physical discomfort, but one thing’s for certain- very few women sleep as well as usual when they’re expecting a baby.
So, at a time when you’re more tired than usual anyway, what steps can you take to ensure the quality sleep you need during this important time? In this article, we’ve taken a look at the primary causes of pregnancy-related insomnia and suggested some top tips to increase and improve the quality of your shut-eye. We’ll even let you in on the secret of how the right mattress can improve your pregnant slumbers.
How much sleep do pregnant women need?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, pregnant women often need several hours extra sleep on top of the 7-9 hours required by normal adults. However, some women prefer to take this extra sleep as naps during the day. The reason for this is pretty simple: your body is having to work much harder than normal during the 9 months of pregnancy. The raised levels of progesterone in your system also contribute towards fatigue. Add to this the fact that sleep during pregnancy tends to be of lower quality, and you’ll see why those extra hours in bed are so important.
What are the causes of sleep problems during pregnancy?
There are various reasons that pregnant women find it hard to sleep during pregnancy, and it can seem cruel that you are denied top-quality sleep just when you need it most. The most common reasons for sleeplessness or low-quality sleep during gestation include:
- Frequent bathroom trips
With a growing baby in your belly, space inside your abdomen becomes pretty tight. As the uterus expands, the amount of room you have available for your bladder decreases. So, you will feel the need to urinate much more frequently as your bladder capacity decreases. This more frequent urge is likely to wake you in the night, often several times.
- Sickness and nausea
The hormonal changes that occur in your body lead to one of the most well-known pregnancy symptoms, so-called ‘morning sickness’. However, the truth is that pregnancy nausea can strike at any time of the day or night, and the discomfort this causes can contribute to sleeplessness. Luckily, this normally eases up early in the second trimester, although some women suffer from queasiness throughout their pregnancies.
Indigestion is a common complaint during pregnancy, and it can be caused by the extra hormones in your body or the uterus putting pressure on your stomach. This may also be felt as heartburn. Unfortunately, indigestion can often feel worse when you lie down, making it a classic cause of sleep problems in pregnancy.
- Leg cramps
Cramping sensations in the legs are yet another pesky pregnancy symptom and can be very painful and uncomfortable. Leg cramps can develop for a variety of reasons, including weight gain, altered circulation during pregnancy and pinched nerves.
- Worry, anxiety or excitement
Pregnancy is an exciting time, but it can also be fraught with anxiety. Many women find that their sleep is disturbed by worries about impending motherhood or concerns for the wellbeing of their unborn baby. Some also find that all the excitement of a new baby on the way makes it tricky to sleep!
- Movements or kicking from the baby
Feeling your baby move or kick inside you can be a wonderful experience, but not all women appreciate it when they’re trying to catch forty winks. Unfortunately, babies’ sleep patterns don’t match those of their mothers. Although there’s no reason that baby should be more active at night than any other time of day, you’re more likely to be able to feel baby’s movements more acutely when you’re lying down. Babies also tend to kick more just after you get into bed as they have more room to move around. As baby gets stronger, these kicks are capable of stopping you nodding off or even waking you up.
How can I combat sleeplessness and night-time discomfort during pregnancy?
Unfortunately, altered and disturbed sleep during pregnancy are, to a certain extent, an annoying fact of life. However, there are some simple steps that you can take to minimise any symptoms coming between you and the sand-man.
- Limit the amount of fluid you drink before bed to reduce the need for night-time toilet journeys. Although remaining well-hydrated during pregnancy is vital, it won’t do you any harm to cut down on your water intake a couple of hours before you head off to sleep.
- To reduce nausea just as you’re trying to get to sleep, nibble on something small and high in carbohydrate before bed, as these types of snacks can help to inhibit queasiness. Crackers are ideal for this purpose. Keeping a small supply of similar snacks next to your bed is a good idea if you tend to wake up feeling sick in the night.
- If heartburn or indigestion are causing you trouble, try to eat dinner several hours before bed to allow it to settle and avoid spicy, rich and acidic foods. Antacids are also a good solution, although always check that the brand you use are safe for use in pregnancy first.
- When cramps strike, you can try stretching your heel downwards and toes upwards to loosen the knotted muscles. A hot compress on the affected area and gentle exercise can also be useful.
- Relaxation rituals and a warm bath are good ways to calm a busy mind before bed. If you feel that you are feeling very anxious or worried a lot of the time, it’s a good idea to speak to a trusted friend or loved one or discuss this with your doctor or midwife.
What sleeping position is best during pregnancy?
As your belly blossoms, you may find that it becomes uncomfortable to sleep in your regular position. However, it’s good news for the majority of ladies, as the most common sleep position is the best during pregnancy: side sleeping. Most women will find that sleeping on their front or back becomes uncomfortable or even downright impossible as pregnancy progresses.
However, comfort aside, there are sound reasons that make sleeping on your side much safer for baby as well. This allows blood to circulate as freely as possible to your baby. Evidence suggests that lying on your left side is best as it allows maximum flow of nutrients into your placenta, and therefore to your baby. If you wake up in the night and find you’ve rolled into a different position, this shouldn’t be a cause for concern, as long as you settle back onto your side before falling asleep again.
Which mattress is best during pregnancy?
As your body weight (and size!) increases and aches and pains become all too familiar, having the right mattress to sleep on becomes even more important. Of course, you’ll need a supportive mattress to help keep your spine well-aligned and relieve those common niggles. However, there are a few other key features that you should look out for:
- Conforming ability
Ideally, you would choose a mattress that can mold to the shape of your sleeping body during pregnancy. Not only can this feel very cosy, but it also reduces pressure on your joints. This can go a long way to reducing or even eliminating the typical aches and pains of pregnancy. If you can’t afford a whole new mattress, you could always consider a mattress topper made from a conforming material such as memory foam or latex. A mattress review blog mattermattress has reviewed the 5 best mattresses for lower pain sufferers.
- Heat retention
When selecting the best mattress for pregnancy, it’s important to check that it is breathable. This allows excess heat to escape from the mattress during the night. Temperature neutrality in a mattress is more important now than ever, as pregnant women tend to become overheated during the night anyway due to the extra hormones floating around in their bodies.
- Motion isolation
Mattresses that isolate movement from one side of the bed to the other are a good idea during pregnancy if you share a bed with your partner. This means that your partner is less likely to be disturbed by your frequent bathroom trips during the night. Even more importantly, this will prevent you from being woken up by your partner moving around during the night when you’re already short on sleep.
Pillows during pregnancy
If you’re still finding that you have aches and pains sleeping on your side, then pillows could be your new best friend. If you’re finding that the increasing weight of your bump is causing discomfort, then you can prop a pillow under it to absorb some of the extra weight. A pillow placed between the knees can also help to alleviate hip and lower back pain during pregnancy.
Another option is to purchase a body pillow specially designed for use during pregnancy. There are various makes and designs available, but the most common ones are in the shape of a large horseshoe or magnet, with a long section of pillow for each side of your body. These can be tucked between your knees or under your bump to relieve pressure and discomfort. They’re also a good option if you are struggling with the switch from sleeping on your back or front to sleeping on your side because the design prevents you from rolling off your side. Be warned, though- these pillows are super-comfy, so you may not want to give yours up once the baby is born!
Should I see a doctor about sleep problems in pregnancy?
Normally, sleep problems are part of a healthy pregnancy and, whilst annoying, are a common gripe amongst expectant mothers. However, there are times when insomnia warrants further investigation by a healthcare professional. If your sleep problems are caused by very severe pain in your back, hips or pelvis, this should be checked out. If you are being kept awake by sickness that prevents you from keeping down any food or water, this also requires urgent medical attention.
Sometimes, women develop depression during the gestation of their baby. Insomnia and worrying or anxious thoughts that prevent you from falling asleep on a frequent basis can all be signs that you are becoming depressed, as can feeling hopeless or finding little pleasure in activities you normally like doing. It may be the first time in the woman’s life that she has experienced problems with her mental health. If you recognise that you are experiencing symptoms of depression, speak to your doctor or midwife for support. Mental health problems are not uncommon during pregnancy, and there are many treatment options available to help you feel better.
The bottom line
Hopefully, you now understand why sleep for pregnant women is so important, and why quality sleep at this time can feel so elusive. Luckily, there are plenty of common-sense measures you can take at home to improve the quality and amount of your sleep. Choosing the right mattress and using pillows to make yourself more comfortable are simple steps that you can take to relieve the physical discomforts that can come with pregnancy. If any of the symptoms that are disturbing your sleep are severe or causing you distress, it’s a good idea to seek help form your doctor or midwife to rule out a medical cause. Sweet dreams!