Welcome to pregnancy! There’s so much that is exciting about this time, and also so much that is definitely NOT.
You’ve probably already been introduced to nausea, breast tenderness, and even round ligament pains and heartburn.
You may have already started experiencing difficulty falling or staying asleep, as well, something you’ve been told to expect after the baby is born, but it may come as a surprise that it’s a common occurrence before junior even makes their appearance.
You go through so many changes during the nine months of pregnancy, it’s not really that surprising that your sleep will change as well. It’s more essential than ever that you prioritize getting a good night’s rest on a regular basis, though.
Staying up late and waking up early (if you work, for instance), is going to have both short and long-term ramifications. It’s time to tell the inner party animal in you to go to bed early and take care of itself.
But what if you’re trying to get more sleep and it’s just not working the way you want it to?There’s a multitude of reasons for your lack of slumber; fortunately, all of them have manageable solutions.
Your restless days could come to an end if you take this advice to heart, so read on and take notes!
Why Can’t I Sleep When I Want To When Pregnant?
You should expect to feel tired throughout most of the day during the first trimester, and while you may experience a rise in energy in the second trimester, the third trimester is likely to have you wishing for an afternoon nap again.
Even if you can get a quality night’s sleep, it’s perfectly normal to need a short refresher in the afternoon in any trimester.
The following is a list of some of the main things that might disturb your nightly respite, listed according to which trimester they’ll most likely begin to be an issue.
We’ve also made sure to include various ways that can help you resolve or even prevent these discomforts and improve your likelihood of getting a better night’s sleep.
Peeing All The Time
Even in your first trimester, before the baby is big enough to start squashing your bladder, you’ll be up and peeing all the time. We literally mean it. ALL. THE. TIME.
This is because of hormone changes in your body as your baby develops.
Later on, excessive bathroom trips will come because of your baby’s growing size, so this is something you should probably get used to because there’s not much you can do to avoid it.
Drinking plenty of water and other healthy liquids during the day and then tapering off after dinner at night is one way to help keep the nighttime bathroom trips to a minimum for some, but may not help entirely for others.
In that case, focus on helping yourself get back to sleep afterward by following the advice that follows in the sections below.
The Perfect Nap
In the first trimester, you might find you’re extra tired and need a nap during the day. That’s all well and good, but make sure that you finish your nap before 3 pm and that it lasts no longer than about 30 minutes.
Taking a nap too late in the day or allowing yourself to rest for too long could make it impossible for you to fall asleep at a reasonable time at night, which could become a self-perpetuating cycle of poor sleep habits.
Get to bed earlier at night and plan for a brief power nap in the early afternoon to get the best amount of rest and to feel the most refreshed.
Stressed out about Birth or Parenting
This affects nearly everyone, but it’s often the hardest on first-time parents. When you don’t know what to expect, stress and overwhelm can make it hard to fall asleep at night.
One solution is to take a childbirth class! Experts recommend that you take a class from someone outside the hospital. It’s a small investment that’s worth its weight in gold.
A hospital class may be free or cheap, but they often teach you more about how to be a good patient than what to expect during labor, especially if you’re planning to have a labor without any pain medication.
Taking a class from a method such as Hypnobabies, Hypnobirthing, Birth Boot Camp, or Bradley Method can increase your chances of being the most prepared you can be for avoiding prenatal stress and having an unmedicated labor, as well as avoiding an unnecessary cesarean section.
Additionally, you can read up on birth. Some of the best books to start with are, “The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth” by Henci Goer and “Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth” by Ina May Gaskin.
Super loud Snoring
Pregnancy can cause your sinus passages to become more stuffed than usual, also called pregnancy rhinitis. This is due to increased hormone levels such as estrogen, which can make your nasal passages swell.
It affects nearly 30% of pregnant women and may come and go during your pregnancy, although it tends to be at its worst in the last trimester.
Pregnancy rhinitis doesn’t come with any other symptoms like a cough, fever, thick green or yellow mucus, or extreme stuffiness, so if you have these symptoms then you may have a cold or might be experiencing allergies instead.
To relieve this stuffiness during pregnancy, you can:
- Use breathing strips that are applied to your nose while you sleep
- Diffuse essential oils such as peppermint or eucalyptus
- Keep a humidifier running
- Drink plenty of fluids during the day
- Keep your head elevated when you rest
- Use saline spray
- Avoid strong fumes from alcohol, paint, and cigarette smoke when possible
If your symptoms become extreme, talk to your care provider about CPAP breathing therapy.
More likely in the second trimester and onward, heartburn is a common cause for lack of rest. The good news, though, is that it has a relatively easy fix: pay attention to what you eat and when you eat it.
A late night McDonald’s run might be what you’re craving, but be sure you have some TUMS on hand to resolve the inevitable burn that will follow if you plan to succumb to your cravings.
It’s better to prevent heartburn altogether by avoiding foods that are greasy, spicy, or acidic (such as tomatoes, fruit juice, or citrus fruits), and avoiding chocolate and coffee altogether.
It’s often recommended you try not to eat within two hours before bedtime, but if you’re still experiencing morning sickness or find you’re waking up in the wee hours of the morning starving for a snack, consuming something light and refreshing before bed is a great idea.
Stay upright for a while after snacking, possibly prop yourself up in bed with pillows so you have time to digest what you’ve eaten before laying flat.
If you happen to indulge in food that brings on serious heartburn right at bedtime, it’s perfectly safe to take an antacid like TUMS or Rolaids.
You could also try some natural remedies: a cup of almond milk is effective for treating heartburn, as are Papaya Enzyme tablets.
Many women decide to use natural remedies during their pregnancies and find them more effective (and tastier) than any other treatment out there.
Getting Used To New Positions
Chances are if you were a tummy or back sleeper before pregnancy, you’re struggling right now.
In your second trimester, you’re finally big enough that sleeping on your stomach just isn’t feasible anymore, and as your doctor may have told you already, being on your back isn’t safe because it can cut off blood supply to both you and your baby.
In this case, laying on your side is your best bet, and it’s ideal to lay on your left side instead of your right side for optimal blood flow.
You can also utilize extra pillows between your legs and at your back for support as needed, or consider investing in a body pillow or pregnancy pillow.
Sometime during your second trimester, your dreams may become exceptionally vivid and even disturbing.
Changes in hormone levels during pregnancy make your emotions stronger and can alter the way your brain processes information.
Common themes in pregnancy dreams include tall buildings, sex (not always with your partner, so don’t feel too guilty about it), giving birth, oceans, and then some.
These themes are often indicative of your concerns or attempts by your subconscious to navigate new situations in your relationships, changing body, and the baby growing inside of you.
While it’s fun to speculate about these nighttime visions, don’t put too much stock in them.
However, if they get disturbing enough to the extent where they’re affecting your sleep, try talking about them with an understanding partner or friend, avoiding television close to bedtime, and drinking a cup of warm chamomile tea about 30 minutes before sleeping.
Daily meditation and keeping a dream diary or journal might also help you discover patterns and find things you can address in your waking life so they stop disturbing your rest.
Of course, you can always speak to a professional about this as well if it’s too much for you to handle on your own.
Those kicks can get pretty strong towards the end of your second trimester and as you move into your third.
As your baby runs out of room, their kicks get stronger and become more frequent. At first, you might be excited; feeling your baby kick is one way you can connect with him or her during your pregnancy.
After a while and when all those “awww’s” become a bit too old, these cute kicks could be a rather annoying source of discomfort while you sleep.
Consider it preparation for late night feedings after your baby is born, and try changing positions so baby moves and stops kicking up at your ribs or down at your cervix if those areas are particularly uncomfortable.
Back Aches and Pelvic Pain
Physical discomforts become much stronger as you move into your third trimester. Due to your growing belly, your back or pelvis may begin to hurt.
Pain can be dull and constant or stabbing and sharp when you move in a certain way or stay in one position for too long.
The only true lasting fix is giving birth, but until then you can find relief through prenatal massage, regular chiropractic adjustments, gentle exercise and stretching, using pillows to support your body while you sleep, getting out of bed with your knees together, using a heating pad (not while you sleep, though), and making sure you get up and move on a regular basis throughout the day (especially if you have a desk job).
Leg cramps are a common occurrence for pregnant women in the later months of pregnancy and can indicate several things.
For one, it could be a calcium or magnesium deficiency. Magnesium aids with muscle relaxation and is an essential nutrient during pregnancy. It is often combined with calcium, as taking them together increases your body’s ability to absorb both nutrients.
If you have leg cramps, this is a good time to quit that soda habit too, as the phosphorus in bubbly drinks – even if it’s just carbonated water – reduces calcium absorption. You can also increase intake of dark green vegetables as part of your diet, as they are high in both of these nutrients.
Other magnesium-rich foods include avocados, almonds, blackstrap molasses, dark chocolate, fatty fish, whole grains, and tofu.
Other calcium-rich foods include dairy products (avoid those with added sugar), broccoli, chia seeds, tofu, figs, oranges, sweet potatoes, and butternut squash.
It Might Be Restless Leg Syndrome
Related closely to leg cramps is Restless Leg Syndrome, where you might experience uncomfortable sensations in your legs or arms that make you want to move or jerk constantly.
This can feel like spiders crawling inside your legs or a burning or “pins and needles” sensation.
Once you move, the sensation disappears – but having already woken up, your attempts to return to sleep could be frequently frustrated.
Scientists suspect that RLS during pregnancy is mainly caused by a lack of iron or folate in the diet, both of which are crucial for your baby’s development.
While most prenatal vitamins include both iron and folate in recommended amounts, every body is different and your body might need more of those to support you during your pregnancy.
In some cases, supplements can be constipating and difficult for your body to absorb, so it’s better to get your nutrients from real food in your diet.
Iron-rich foods include dark green vegetables such as spinach, lean red meat, dried apricots, shellfish, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, legumes (beans, lentils, etc.), turkey, and tofu.
Folate-rich foods include avocados, beets, eggs, cauliflower, citrus fruits, bananas, carrots, asparagus, brussel sprouts, legumes, broccoli, and nuts.
Notice a theme, yet? Many of the foods mentioned above contain high levels of all four nutrients that help prevent leg cramps. Stock up and eat from these foods on a daily basis to keep leg cramps and sleeplessness away.
Why Adequate Pregnancy Sleep Is Vital
I’m sure you know by now that not getting enough sleep is bad for you in general, but there are additional consequences you pay when you’re pregnant.
On a short-term basis, you might experience extra fatigue or crabbiness over the next few days until you catch up on rest.
If you don’t get enough sleep at night over a longer period of time, you’ll experience chronic fatigue, extreme muscle aches, and joint pain (because your body doesn’t have time to regenerate and heal), nausea (especially in your first trimester), constant headaches, and possibly even fainting.
If your body isn’t healthy, your baby will struggle to develop properly. It’s essential that you take care of yourself so you can give your baby the best chance to grow and be born healthy.
Now that you’re aware of all the obstacles that can get in the way of ideal sleep during pregnancy, here are all the tips you should keep in mind for sleep positions, products, things to avoid and things to definitely include to make sure you have a full night’s sleep.
How To Sleep When Pregnant: Best Positions
What positions you find comfortable to sleep in when pregnant will largely depend on your body and how you’re carrying your baby, but there is one position that’s mainly recommended by pregnancy care providers across the board: your left side.
As a matter of fact, experts refer to this as “SOS” – (sleep on side).
This doesn’t apply so much in the early first trimester, though.
With the accuracy of first response pregnancy tests, many women find out they are expecting around 5-8 weeks in.
At this point, you aren’t showing yet, and the main struggles you’ll have with sleep are frequent bathroom trips and morning sickness. You can even still sleep on your back!
Keep the morning up-chuck at bay by having a package of plain crackers beside your bed and munching on one when you first wake up. Otherwise, sleep as you see fit!
Once your belly starts to grow, you can’t sleep on your stomach comfortably anymore.
It’s also not recommended that you sleep directly on your back either, due to compression of veins and blood vessels that carry oxygen to you and your baby – which studies prove leads to a higher rate of stillbirth after 28 weeks.
Lay on your side, preferably your left side, and prop pillows against your back and between your legs for the best night’s rest (or get a pregnancy pillow). Some women find that even this position feels uncomfortable for them, and prefer to sleep propped up in bed or on an armchair instead.
Why The Left Side?
First things first, it’s not a terrible thing if you sleep on your right side when pregnant. It’s perfectly normal for you to change positions throughout the night, rotating between your sleeping on your left side and right side, and that’s fine.
With that being said, science favors sleeping on your left side because a crucial vein called the “inferior vena cava” runs through that side and is responsible for cycling blood back up to the heart from the lower half of your body.
As your pregnant belly grows and puts pressure on different areas of your body, you may find that you wake up in the middle of the night after sleeping on your right side, with no explanation why.
It could be your body waking you so that you’ll move and take pressure off those veins on your right side so blood can pass more easily. The better your blood flow, the better sleep you’ll have and the healthier your baby will be.
Useful Items For Ideal Sleep During Pregnancy
You don’t need a lot of extra stuff to get great sleep when pregnant, but there are some products out there that might make it a bit easier to get your best night of shuteye. Here are a few you should keep in mind.
- Sound machine to block out traffic pollution or the neighbor’s dog.
- Eye cover if your room is brightly lit – alternatively you could get blackout curtains for your bedroom.
- Pregnancy pillow, body pillow, or four/five normal pillows for propping yourself up comfortably.
- Lightweight pajamas or nightgown so you don’t overheat or feel confined in tight clothes.
- Lavender or chamomile tea for a soothing cup before bed.
What To Avoid To Ensure You Get A Good Night’s Sleep
Caffeine Of All Types
Green tea, coffee, energy drinks, and chocolate are all common sources of energy women take advantage of during pregnancy when used wisely. However, the key words here are “energy” and “wisely”.
Taken in excess, caffeinated beverages and foods or supplements can hyper-stimulate your system and make it harder to fall asleep at night. Especially avoid these items within two hours of going to bed.
Greasy, Acidic, or Spicy food
We’ve already talked in detail about heartburn and how to prevent it; this is just a reminder to avoid large meals and any meal containing these types of food within an hour of going to bed.
If you must eat something shortly before going to sleep, it’s better to have a light snack high in protein and other nutrients, such as avocados on toast, a handful of nuts, a bowl of (non-acidic) fruit, yogurt with granola, etc.
You’ll avoid painful heartburn and get a much better night of rest.
Bright Lights and Screens
Everyone today has a phone, computer or TV they use on a daily basis, and it’s common to engage in activities that involve one or even all three after dinner is over.
However, bright lights (especially those emanating from screens) can overstimulate your system and trick it into thinking it’s still daytime.
So, difficult though it may be, dim your lights in all living areas and limit your screen use (maybe read a book or take a bath instead) within two hours of going to bed.
If you get up at night frequently (to urinate or get a snack), be sure to have a dim nightlight so you don’t have to wake yourself further by turning on bright overhead lights.
Your body will thank you!
Sugar Of All Kinds
Similar to caffeine, sugar is an energizer.
It’s not just man made sugar we’re talking about here, sometimes natural sugars can stimulate your system and make it hard for you to fall asleep.
If you do choose a sweet snack at night, balance it with protein or a healthy fat (such as cheese or nuts) to prevent a blood sugar spike that could thwart your attempts at a restful night.
Exercising Before Bed
Exercise is a wonderful way to stay fit during pregnancy, as long as you don’t overdo it.
Your care provider also has to be okay with you exercising and determine it’s safe for you to do so.
When doing this, keep your activities – however vigorous – to the time before or right after dinner.
Exercising within two hours of bedtime produces adrenaline and other stimulating hormones that could keep you awake long after you would like to be asleep.
The only exception to this rule could be gentle, slow yoga routines specifically designed for helping you get a better night’s sleep.
8 Practical Tips For The Best Sleep During Pregnancy
In our pop-a-pill society, it’s easy to want to reach for the sleeping pills in your cupboard when you can’t seem to get a good night’s rest during pregnancy. Who doesn’t like a quick fix nowadays, right?
Unfortunately, most drugs that help with sleep aren’t safe for pregnancy.
There are many ways besides drugs to make your night a restful one before your baby comes. We’ve already mentioned a few so far in this article, but here are some more ideas to make sure you get the best sleep possible.
Have a Routine
If you don’t have one already, now is the perfect time to implement one. Routines signal to your brain and your body that it’s time to wind down and get ready to sleep.
It’s good practice for when your baby comes, too, because having a going to bed routine for your baby can make it easier for them to learn how to sleep through the night.
Take a Warm Bath or Shower
Warm water is soothing and restful. Wash the stress and strain of your day from your body and take some time to connect with your baby.
If you’re planning a water birth, this is a good time to visualize how the water will help during contractions.
Grab A Cup Of Tea
You can invite a soothing night by brewing a mug of tea.
Lavender and Chamomile specifically help with getting a better night’s sleep and are both safe options for pregnancy.
Lemon, Ginger, Red Raspberry leaf, or other pregnancy tea blends usually taste lovely with a touch of honey or your favorite sweetener (remember not to overdo it!) and having a warm drink before bed can help you relax.
Exercise During The Day
Wait, didn’t we just tell you NOT to exercise?
Exercise helps you detox and de-stress, but it’s best to do it well before bedtime so you don’t excite your body too much.
Adrenaline and other hormones might thwart your desire to get to bed at a decent hour, but exercising during the day is a must for better sleep at night.
Note: Speak to your care provider before taking up any form of exercise during pregnancy, they might determine there’s a reason for you to keep it to a bare minimum.
Drink more water during the day to stay hydrated, but slow down towards the end of the night so you can avoid waking up too frequently to relieve yourself.
Use the hour before bedtime after you unplug from your phone, computer, and TV as a chance to get in touch with the present moment.
Relieve anxiety, stress, and sleeplessness with a regular meditation practice. Even fifteen minutes can make a big difference in your ability to fall asleep at night, and the benefits will seep into every other area of your life just as well.
See a Chiropractor
If pain, heartburn, and other discomforts have you tossing and turning around all night long, book an appointment with a local chiropractor.
Getting an adjustment might be just what your body needs to relax into a peaceful slumber.
See A Certified Sleep Specialist
If all else fails, why not see a certified sleep specialist? You should especially do this if you have serious snoring or apnea issues preventing you from getting a good night’s rest.
A certified sleep specialist might even determine you need to get a a CPAP prescribed to help open your airways and ensure both you and baby are getting necessary amounts of oxygen.
Tried It All And Still Having Trouble Sleeping?
If you’ve tried everything mentioned in this article and you’re still struggling to get a good night’s rest when pregnant, it’s time to have a conversation with your care provider.
Your doctor or midwife may be able to help you get a prescription medication safe for pregnancy, and evaluate your medical history and current situation to discover whether a different physical issue might be keeping you up at night.
Of course, if in the meantime you find something that works for you, make sure to give them the update so they know how you’re doing.
Wrapping It Up
You might be at your wit’s end now trying to pass a comfortable, peaceful night, but as you have probably heard before, it only gets harder after your baby is born!
Think of disrupted pregnancy sleep as an opportunity to find solutions for sleeping through or around the discomforts as a way to prepare you for the fourth trimester.
The fourth trimester is the time after your baby is born when you’re both adjusting to them being outside the womb.
Lack of sleep is real and can be serious, but with some creativity and a lot of support from your prenatal team, family, and friends – you will make it through this pregnancy and those early (sometimes sleepless) seasons with health, vitality, and wellness.