Insomnia during pregnancy? 14 tips to get the rest you need

15 November, 2011

insomnia pregnancy

insomnia in pregnancy

Many women suffer from insomnia during pregnancy. According to a joint study conducted by St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia and Delaware County Memorial Hospital in USA, 97% of mums-to-be have trouble sleeping.

So what causes insomnia in pregnancy?

There are many possible causes including:

  • anxiety
  • fear
  • shortness of breath
  • morning sickness
  • excitement/anticipation
  • discomfort (tender breasts, backache, leg cramps etc.)
  • frequent bathroom visits
  • vivid dreams and nightmares
  • heartburn and acid reflux
  • baby kicking

In the first trimester, hormonal changes in the body including an increase in progesterone, may make you naturally more lethargic.  Progesterone is a natural sedative, often heightening the desire to nap during the day, which in turn can disrupt your natural sleep cycle, making it harder to fall asleep (or stay asleep) at night.

During this early stage, the uterus is still relatively small and has not yet pushed up out of the pelvis.  So it applies pressure on the bladder, resulting in frequent requirement to urinate, another cause of disrupted sleep.

Although this tends to resolve itself in the second trimester, by the third many of the problems return.  The uterus is now putting pressure on the lungs as well as the bladder and other organs, and rolling over to get a more comfortable sleep position isn’t as easy either.

How can I prevent insomnia during pregnancy?

Sleep is critical to health, and the good news is that there are many things that you can do to help.  Follow these tips for general sleep enhancement:

  1. Keep a positive attitude.  Disruption of sleep, whilst being inconvenient and irritating, is not normally a serious condition.  Hang in there – things will get better.
  2. Pay back some of your sleep debt by taking short naps during the day.  Keep them down to 20 minutes maximum to avoid going into deep sleep.
  3. If you are working, try to organize a day a week at home so that you have a chance to spend time in an environment in which you are in control.
  4. Shop online rather than carrying heavy bags back from the supermarket.  If you are pregnant, you are already carrying more weight than normal.
  5. Don’t be shy of asking for help.  Get your family to give you a hand with tasks that you would normally do yourself.  Washing, ironing, vacuuming, changing the bed linen or putting out the trash are all things that mums and dads, husbands and children can help with.
  6. Try to keep to a consistent sleep schedule.  Go to bed and get up at the same time every night.  This will promote a more uniform sleep cycle.
  7. Only go to bed when you are ready.
  8. Avoid alcohol (you shouldn’t be drinking anyway during pregnancy) and other stimulants, including caffeine and sugary soft drinks.
  9. Avoid spicy foods.
  10. Avoid watching TV or doing email in bed.
  11. Use your bed only for sleep and intimacy.
  12. Ask your partner to give you a gentle shoulder and neck massage before going to sleep.
  13. Try a warm bath and a milky drink before going to bed.
  14. Take regular exercise during the day.  Try gentle yoga, or even a walk in the park.  Spend time outside every day: sunlight resets your biological clock and will help regulate your sleep patterns.

Find the right sleep position.

As your baby grows, the weight of the bump changes your center of gravity, restricting blood flow and making you uncomfortable.

Try kneeling on all fours over a bean bag or birthing ball before bed to help with blood flow and relax the muscles.  You can also try doing some gentle thigh and calf stretches to prevent leg cramps.

Once in bed, particularly if you are habitually a back or front sleeper, you will have to adjust your sleeping position to get comfortable.

Sleeping on your back causes the uterus to put pressure on your vena cava, the vein carrying blood from your feet and legs back to your heart.  In pregnancies over about 20 weeks, this can cause a drop in blood pressure in both the mother and the baby resulting in dizziness ad shortness of breath.

Sleeping on your back will also put extra pressure on your intestines, further preventing satisfying sleep.

Try instead to lie on your side.  Some doctors specifically recommend sleeping on the left side, helping to keep the weight of the uterus from putting pressure on the liver.  Sleeping on the left side also improves circulation to the heart and allows for the best blood flow to the fetus, uterus, and kidneys.  But don’t get too stressed out about which side you wake up on – you will probably find yourself tossing and turning a bit anyway.

Also try supporting yourself with pillows.  There are many specially shaped maternity sleep pillows on the market which can help relieve pressure on hips, back and joints as well as to support your back.  But a rolled-up blanket or normal pillow may work just as well.  Try placing a pillow between your legs to take the pressure off your pelvis and one at the small of the back to relieve some of the back pressure.

Pregnant women often suffer from heartburn or acid reflux.   This is caused by hormonal changes which weaken the gastroesophageal sphincter, the valve like structure separating the esophagus and the stomach.  You can prevent the discomfort of stomach acid coming up into the esophagus (which causes heartburn) by raising your head with pillows.  An antacid such as Gaviscon may also help.

You will find many more ideas which will help with insomnia in pregnancy on this web site, including:

Try a buckwheat or hop-filled pillow as well.

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