Every woman who has been pregnant can confirm that pregnancy is the most interesting period of their life’s and not for the reasons you might think. Sure, having kids is a life-changing experience, and it is incredible that you have a growing human inside of you, but also, you’ll experience a different version of yourself.
Unusual sensations and weird cravings will surprise you. For example, some women have an odd craving for pickles and marshmallows (and here we thought that PMS is strange), but hey my mother ate buttery bread and a lot of sugar on top when she had me, and she doesn’t even have a sweet tooth (maybe that’s why I do).
So, there are a lot of things to expect when you’re expecting, but we can all agree that sleep problems can be one of the most annoying ones. It’s enough that you have to deal with many changes but not having proper sleep can be too much. That is why it is essential to be informed about what is the role of sleep, what causes lack or too much sleep during pregnancy and best sleeping positions. Having the right information will help you feel a bit more at ease knowing that most of the things you are facing are quite normal.
Sleep During Pregnancy
The general role of sleep is to help your body and brain feel rested. In order for your brain cells to function normally, neurons need ninety minutes of sleep that is not interrupted. Also, not only does sleep boost your mood and immune system, but it also increases the growth hormone which is super important for pregnant ladies.
Growth hormone stimulates the growth of placenta and uterus which ensures that the baby is developing well despite tough and stressful times. The optimal sleep hours for women who are expecting varies (depending on the stage they are in) but less than six hours of sleep can cause their labor to be prolonged compared to women who slept seven or more hours. Lack of sleep can also cause a higher risk of c-section delivery.
A lot of physical symptoms that cause sleep disruptions are related to hormonal changes. Let’s take a look at some of them.
- Frequent urination – Pressure on the bladder increases as your baby gets bigger and the hormone called progesterone relaxes muscles which can additionally urge you to pee. Also, kidneys have to work extra hard due to increased blood volume, and this process can create more urine.
- Breath shortness and snoring – Due to hormone changes you will take deeper breaths, and as the uterus gets bigger, it might pressure your diaphragm. Shortness of breath might disturb your sleep because you will work hard to get air. Frequent disruption of breathing can cause sleep apnea disorder.
- Constipation and heartburn – Digestive system slows down during pregnancy which means food stays longer in the stomach and later on in the intestines. That can cause constipation or heartburn which can lead to even more discomfort as the uterus puts pressure on the stomach.
- Backache and leg cramp – Additional weight can cause back pain and cramps in the legs. Also, a hormone called relaxin, that prepares your body for childbirth, can affect your legs and back as well. It can cause your ligaments to be looser which will make you prone to injuries.
- High heart rate – Your heart will work hard to pump more blood because a lot of it goes to the uterus and the rest of the body. This will make your heart rate increase.
- Swelling in legs and increased nose congestion – A hormone called estrogen can make the blood vessels expand in size trough vasodilation prosses. This process can make your legs swollen and your nose to get stuffed which can also cause breathing disruptions. Estrogen can reduce REM sleep.
- Insomnia – Is usually related to anxiety about the pregnancy, delivery, balance between motherhood and work. Most common symptoms are finding it hard to fall asleep and waking up during the night or too early in the morning.
Pregnancy also has an impact on other hormones as well. For example, it increases melatonin and prolactin levels that cause deep sleep. Also, the increase of oxytocin can cause sleep disruptions during nighttime contractions.
The First Trimester
Trimesters are the three stages of pregnancy. Starting with the first day since the menstrual cycle has ended and finalizing it with child delivery (after forty weeks).
The first twelve weeks are the beginning of the first trimester. During this time, progesterone will cause you to feel constantly without energy due to lack of sleep, and we can also partly blame the frequent urge to pee for that.
This occurs when the bladder becomes sluggish which can cause you to go to the bathroom during nighttime. In that case, it might be a good idea to refrain from drinking a lot of fluid before bedtime. Although it’s recommended to drink during the day as it prevents swelling and constipation which can cause discomfort during sleep.
Also, to ensure that you can fall asleep after your bathroom visit, it would be wise to use nightlight as it won’t disrupt the production of melatonin. The pressure of the bladder can also lead to vivid or lucid dreams which can make it harder for you to get a good rest.
Nausea can rob you of sleep because it can happen at any time be it morning or night. Most women prefer to eat salty snacks like crackers or pretzels, and cereal without milk before getting up in the morning.
Also, due to the tenderness of the breasts, it might be difficult for you to sleep on your stomach. Having hot flashes is quite common for this trimester. Buying a fan can help you sleep cooler and in peace, because white noise from the fan will mask all unpleasant noise, for example, if your partner is snoring. But, sometimes it is not your partner who is snoring; it is you. This can happen if you are an allergy-prone person or weigh more than average.
Insomnia symptoms in early pregnancy are quite common, and a hormone called progesterone has a big part in it. Progesterone can cause you to feel sleepy during the day, and that can disrupt your rest during the night. This can make you feel exhausted and can lead to some insomnia symptoms.
Whatever you do, you mustn’t take sleeping pills and supplements without consulting your doctor. The safest choice is to take short naps during the day to feel more rested.
The Second Trimester
As you get used to rapid changes during the first trimester, the second one might be easier because the changes of the hormones even out for a while, but they will start to change again in the third trimester (hormonal rollercoaster, I know).
During this time most women complain that they often feel leg cramps and if your iron levels are low, you might experience restless leg syndrome. This condition will make you feel like you have a burning or crawling sensation in your legs causing discomfort while laying or sitting.
Heartburn is a common symptom and can be alleviated by sleeping on the left side. Some recommend keeping your head elevated by adding a few extra pillows to prevent acid from going up.
If you have a higher blood pressure regardless of pregnancy, you might need to be cautious during your second trimester due to possible preeclampsia development. If you notice that you are experiencing constant headaches, nausea and urination decrease, you should consult your doctor for preventive measures.
In addition, if you had experienced lucid dreaming before it might occur again and is usually related to some anxieties regarding pregnancy and the baby itself. Meditation and relaxation can help you feel calmer before bed.
The Third Trimester
Brace yourself for the final round. Although you have already accustomed to strange behavior and changes, during this stage, you will probably wake up more often as the baby is bigger and more active. So, find a sleeping position that is the most comfortable, but it is advised to avoid back sleeping which can put you in a high risk of stillbirth.
Sleeping on the back will put the fetus in a position in which the oxygen is less consumed during sleep. This can cause low heart rate also known as fetal distress. Of course, this doesn’t mean that if you happen to sleep on your back once or twice your baby will automatically be harmed, but it is a disadvantageous position so, it should be avoided. The optimal position is the left side sleeping, putting pillows between your legs and knees. This position will promote better nutrient and blood flow to your baby as well as kidneys and uterus. Using body pillows is an effective way to minimize backpressure and relieve pain.
Due to nasal congestion and extra weight you might snore more often which can cause the development of sleep apnea. This can become a severe problem for pregnant women because lack of air can cause a rush of hormones that can be harmful to baby’s health. CPAP or continuous positive airway pressure is an effective and most importantly safe way to treat sleep apnea during pregnancy.
Tips for Better Sleep
Here are some tips on how to get better sleep during pregnancy
- Have a sleep schedule and stick to it – Make an effort to go to bed and wake up at the same time. Even though weekends are perfect for longer lie-ins, avoid it as it can make it harder for you to sleep during the night. In case your sleep pattern is already messed up then try to get some sleep whenever you can.
- Exercise – Exercises help you to reduce the chance of getting a leg cramp and it can tire you out during the day so that you can get a good night sleep. Swimming, yoga, and walking are good ways to do that. Avoid doing exercise before bed because it makes you more alert.
- Control your worries, not the other way around – Worries are inevitable in life let alone in pregnancy, and sometimes it’s not even your fault, it’s hormones. Nevertheless, a good way to rationalize your worries is to write them down on paper, maybe before bedtime. This can help you feel at ease because usually things are not as bad as they seem.Learning what to expect during your pregnancy and after will boost your confidence in the upcoming situations. Don’t forget that you can always talk to your obstetrician or midwife because she has experience and can assure you that you are not alone in the struggle, many have the same experience (and worries).
- Create a soothing nighttime ritual – Winding down about one hour before bed will prepare your body for sleep. You can do that by taking a warm bubble bath, reading something light or whatever sets you in the sleepy mood.
- Try out some relaxation methods – Exercises that help you to take in deep breaths can help you feel calmer and more relaxed which is helpful during labor. Some say that relaxing podcasts helps them to ease their mind and let troubles float away.
- Your bedroom should be your sanctuary – You should feel comfortable in your bedroom so make sure you open the window to cool down. If your sleep gets disrupted because of light or noise, consider buying blackout blinds and earplugs.
If You Can’t Sleep
Naturally, there will be times when you won’t be able to sleep. Instead of being annoyed or worried about it you can watch TV, read a book or a magazine, and do whatever else makes you happy (maybe some hobby you haven’t had time for). At some point, you’ll feel tired and sleepy, and you’ll go back to bed. Daytime naps (30 to 60 min) can be helpful to get more energy.
Don’t ever consider taking sleeping pills and if you are tempted, call your midwife, and she will advise you.
A fashion designer by profession, writer by choice and bookworm – always. As a person struggling with anxiety for years and someone who loves to sleep, I can relate to the struggles of getting a good night’s rest. When I’m not doing sleep research, I enjoy reading books, being involved in creative activities and discovering the best use of my Moka pot.