Sleep Troubles During Pregnancy and How to Alleviate Them
Pregnancy changes everything about the way a woman sleeps, and not in a positive way. Any who have carried a baby to term are probably nodding heads and remembering those restless nights with strong dislike. While individual women are affected in different ways and intensity, all pregnant women experience a lower quality of sleep, according to studies, and if you had a sleep disorder before, pregnancy can make it worse. Sleep troubles can begin shortly after conception and continue through the term of the pregnancy, with different complaints at each trimester. Sounding miserable yet?
It’s most visibly obvious that the size of the baby during the third trimester would cause constant discomfort for moms, translating to difficulty sleeping at night. However, babies grow most rapidly during the first trimester, leaving moms feeling especially fatigued. Hormones are shooting up and down (and sideways and loop-the-loops… you get the picture) throughout the entire pregnancy. The hormone progesterone is very high during the first trimester, causing smooth muscle to relax. This contributes to heartburn, congestion, and the urge to urinate more often, all of which can interrupt a full night’s sleep. Progesterone and estrogen often decrease the amount of time spent in the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep. Add that to other common complaints of early pregnancy (such as morning sickness) and it becomes easier to understand why the first trimester of pregnancy is so physically and mentally exhausting. A growing fetus needs resources, all of which are drawn from mother!
If pregnancy could be related to a storm, the second trimester would be the eye. For most women, sleep quality recovers, energy levels return, and overall mood improves. It might have you thinking, “this pregnancy thing isn’t so bad!” Time spent sleeping is more efficient, having less disruptions, although some women report that movements from the baby (called ‘quickening’) wake them from sleep. Toward the end of the second trimester, things begin to get tough.
Really, the list of less-than-stellar phenomenon pregnant women experience during the third trimester would haunt your dreams… but let’s attempt to name a few. Common complaints include:
- Restless legs
- Incessant trips to the bathroom
- Aches in the back, joints, and hands
- Severe itching
- Shortness of breath
- Lucid dreams
- Difficulty getting comfortable
- GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease)
- Braxton-Hicks contractions
- Sleep apnea
Poor sleep efficiency during this period is so prevalent, 98% of pregnant women say they are awake multiple times during the night. To recuperate, the occurrence of daytime naps increases, which also lowers night time sleep efficiency. It’s little wonder moms are so exhausted!
Tips for getting a good night’s rest during pregnancy
Getting enough rest is extremely important for pregnant women, and for those who just can’t get enough, there are succinct drawbacks. Studies reveal an increased risk of postpartum depression and premature birth, as well as tougher labor for women who are sleep deprived. To tackle the discomforts of pregnancy and get better sleep, try some of these suggestions:
- For discomfort: Purchase pregnancy body pillows or use a rolled blanket to support the extra weight of your body. That added support between the legs, under your belly, or against your back might be just the thing to help you feel comfortable.
- Heartburn, indigestion, or GERD: Eat smaller meals throughout the day, drink less during meals, and don’t lie down directly after eating. Avoid spicy foods. You might try putting a pillow under your shoulders to prop yourself up just enough that those stomach acids won’t rise into the esophagus.
- Restless legs: Caffeinated beverages can make restless leg syndrome (RLS) worse. Sometimes a heating pad will do the trick, but if not, contact your doctor for possible medications you can take while pregnant. Often, RLS during pregnancy happens because of an iron or folic acid deficiency, which a supplement may correct.
- Braxton-Hicks: False labor pains that occur in the second and third trimester are called Braxton-Hicks. Lamentably, they tend to occur more often at night, likely because of increased oxytocin levels. To relieve Braxton-Hicks, or even prevent them from happening altogether, drink plenty of water and change positions.
- Anxiety and Insomnia: Having a baby is a big deal, and that fact keeps some women up at night. Worrying over pending parenthood, the birth of the baby, and thousands of other factors might be so stressful that it becomes difficult to sleep. Engaging in soothing activities right before sleep, creating a comfortable space, talking with supportive friends or family members, and seeking help from a medical professional are all tactics that may help with anxiety.
- Sleep apnea: Pauses in breathing during the night affect an estimated 22 million Americans, including pregnant women. Maintaining a healthy weight before and during pregnancy can help prevent the breathing disorder, which can have detrimental affects to both mother and baby. Sometimes elevating the upper body can help. CPAP machines are also safe for use during pregnancy, though no medication is available as treatment.
- Exercise daily. Getting enough exercise has many benefits. It can help improve the quality of sleep, reduce anxiety and restless legs, help you stay positive, shorten the length of labor, and feel better overall.
You deserve a good night’s rest, and if conditions are just not allowing you to get the sleep you need, talk with your doctor about different types of intervention. Fortunately, all of the sleep problems women run into when pregnant typically disappear after the baby is born. Hang in there and take the time to get the rest your body so desperately needs!