Expectant parents know that it'll be harder to get a good night's sleep after their
little one arrives. But who could have guessed that catching enough ZZZs during pregnancy
could be so difficult?
Actually, you may sleep more than usual during the first trimester of your pregnancy.
It's normal to feel tired as your body works to protect and nurture the developing
baby. The placenta (the organ that nourishes the fetus until birth) is just forming,
your body is making more blood, and your heart is pumping faster.
It's usually later in pregnancy that most women have trouble getting enough deep,
Why Sleeping Can Be Difficult
The first and most pressing reason behind sleep problems during pregnancy is the
increasing size of the fetus, which can make it hard to find a comfortable sleeping
position. If you've always been a back or stomach sleeper, you might have trouble
getting used to sleeping on your side (as doctors recommend). Also, shifting around
in bed becomes more difficult as the pregnancy progresses and you get bigger.
Other common physical symptoms may interfere with sleep as well:
the frequent urge to pee: Your kidneys are working harder to
filter the increased volume of blood moving through your body, and this filtering
process creates more urine. And, as your baby grows and the uterus gets bigger, the
pressure on your bladder increases. This means more trips to the bathroom, day and
night. The number of nighttime trips may be greater if your baby is particularly active
increased heart rate: Your heart rate increases to pump
more blood, and as more of your blood supply goes to the uterus, your heart works
harder to send sufficient blood to the rest of your body.
shortness of breath: The increase of pregnancy hormones
will cause you to breathe in more deeply. You might feel like you're working harder
to get air. Later on, breathing can feel more difficult as your enlarging uterus takes
up more space, resulting in pressure against your diaphragm (the muscle just below
leg cramps and backaches: The extra weight you're carrying
can contribute to pains in your legs or back. During pregnancy, the body also makes
a hormone called relaxin, which helps prepare it for childbirth. One of the effects
of relaxin is the loosening of ligaments throughout the body, making pregnant women
less stable and more prone to injury, especially in their backs.
heartburn and constipation: Many pregnant women have heartburn,
which is when the stomach contents reflux back up into the esophagus. During pregnancy,
the entire digestive system slows down and food stays in the stomach and intestines
longer, which may cause heartburn or constipation. These can both get worse later
on in the pregnancy when the growing uterus presses on the stomach or the large intestine.
Your sleep problems might have other causes as well. Many pregnant women report
that their dreams become more vivid than usual, and some even have nightmares.
Stress can interfere with sleep, too. Maybe you're worried about your baby's health,
anxious about your abilities as a parent, or feeling nervous about the delivery
itself. All of these feelings are normal, but they might keep you (and your partner)
up at night.
Finding a Good Sleeping Position
Early in your pregnancy, try to get into the habit of sleeping on your side. Lying
on your side with your knees bent is likely to be the most comfortable position as
your pregnancy progresses. It also makes your heart's job easier because it keeps
the baby's weight from applying pressure to the large vein (called the inferior vena
cava) that carries blood back to the heart from your feet and legs.
Some doctors specifically recommend that pregnant women sleep on the left
side. Because your liver is on the right side of your abdomen, lying on your
left side helps keep the uterus off that large organ. Sleeping on the left side also
improves circulation to the heart and allows for the best blood flow to the fetus,
uterus, and kidneys. Ask your doctor what he or she recommends.
But don't drive yourself crazy worrying that you might roll over onto your back
during the night. Shifting positions is a natural part of sleeping that you can't
control. Most likely, during the third trimester of your pregnancy, your body won't
shift into the back-sleeping position anyway because it will be too uncomfortable.
If you do shift onto your back, the discomfort will probably wake you up. Talk
to your doctor, who may suggest that you use a pillow to keep yourself propped up
on one side.
Try experimenting with pillows to discover a comfortable sleeping position. Some
women find that it helps to place a pillow under their abdomen or between their legs.
Also, using a bunched-up pillow or rolled-up blanket at the small of your back may
help to relieve some pressure. In fact, you'll see many "pregnancy pillows" on the
market. If you're thinking about buying one, talk with your doctor first about which
might work for you.
Tips for Sleeping Success
Although they might seem appealing when you're feeling desperate to get some ZZZs,
remember that over-the-counter sleep aids, including herbal remedies, are not
recommended for pregnant women.
Instead, these tips may safely improve your chances of getting a good night's sleep:
Cut out caffeinated drinks like soda, coffee, and tea from your diet as much as
possible. Restrict any intake of them to the morning or early afternoon.
Avoid drinking a lot of fluids or eating a full meal within a few hours of going
to bed. (But make sure that you also get plenty of nutrients and liquids throughout
the day.) Some women find it helpful to eat more at breakfast and lunch and then have
a smaller dinner. If nausea is keeping you up, try eating a few crackers before
you go to bed.
Get into a routine of going to bed and waking up at the same time each day.
Avoid rigorous exercise right before you go to bed. Instead, do something relaxing,
like reading a book or having a warm, caffeine-free drink, such as milk with honey
or a cup of herbal tea.
If a leg cramp awakens you, it may help to press your feet hard against the wall
or to stand on the leg. Some women find that stretching their calf muscles before
bed helps. Also, make sure that you're getting enough calcium and magnesium in your
diet, which can help reduce leg cramps. But don't take any supplements without checking
with your doctor.
Take a yoga class or learn other relaxation techniques to help you unwind after
a busy day. (Be sure to discuss any new activity or fitness regimen with your doctor
If fear and anxiety are keeping you awake, consider enrolling in a childbirth
class or parenting class. More knowledge and the company of other pregnant
women may help to ease the fears that are keeping you awake at night.
When You Can't Sleep
Of course, there are bound to be times when you just can't sleep. Instead of tossing
and turning, worrying that you're not asleep, and counting the hours until your alarm
clock will go off, get up and do something: read a book, listen to music, watch TV,
catch up on letters or email, or pursue some other activity you enjoy. Eventually,
you'll probably feel tired enough to get back to sleep.
And if possible, take short naps (30 to 60 minutes) during the day to make up for
lost sleep. It won't be long before your baby will be setting the sleep rules in your
house, so you might as well get used to sleeping in spurts!