Pregnancy Sleep Advice

Getting Enough Sleep When Pregnant

You’re pregnant, you can’t sleep – and you know why. The next question is: what can you do to get a good night’s sleep?

The first thing you should (or shouldn't do): Never, ever, ever take a sleep aid while pregnant without consulting your doctor first. This includes the prescription and over-the-counter drugs which are designed specifically to help you sleep, along with other recommended ‘help’ – cold medicines, herbal remedies, pain relievers, etc. Too many of these drugs will be harmful to your baby. If your doctor does prescribe or recommends an over-the-counter medication, make sure that you stay with the brand and dosage. “Almost like” is not the same thing as the real thing. Changes in ingredients from brand-to-brand could be harmful to your baby. And never take someone else’s prescription.

There are numerous reasons why sleep is evading you during your pregnancy. Most of the solutions to these causes are common sense. The key here is that most of the sleep-depriving causes can be reduced or eliminated. Just because you’re pregnant does not mean you have to do without sleep (save sleep-deprivation for the new baby!)

General Physical Discomfort.

  • Queasiness. Not only does lack of sleep cause nausea, your queasy stomach may prevent you from getting to sleep. Try eating a bland, high-carb snack (crackers, rice cakes, etc.) right before you go to bed (it’s a good idea to keep a little tin or baggie of these types of goodies on your night table for emergencies, or first thing in the morning). Stay away from sweets, artificial sugars, and any known “morning sickness triggers” right before bedtime.
  • Indigestion, Heartburn and Constipation. The entire digestive system slows down during pregnancy. This means that food tends to stay in the stomach and intestines longer, which can lead to indigestion, heartburn, and constipation. No fun during any circumstances, these are really uncomfortable during pregnancy. Having a growing baby pushing (and kicking) against your stomach and intestines don’t help matters, either. Some quick ways to help prevent these unpleasant problems from affecting your sleep (these tips are also good to combat indigestion and heart burn during your waking hours, too) include:

    • Don’t overfill your stomach by eating big meals. Instead, eat several small meals during the day.
    • Make sure you eat your last meal well before bedtime. You can snack on high-carb, bland foods before bed, but you want your primary eating to be done. Also, don’t lay down right after a meal. Sit up for an hour or two after a meal before lying down.
    • Stay away from your 'triggers'. Known triggers of heart burn and indigestion are citrus, spices, fried foods, artificial sweeteners, onions, green peppers, tomato sauce and chocolate. Every pregnant woman is different, so your triggers may not be on the list, or you may not have any problems with anything on the list. I never had any heartburn problems, until about week 34 – and then I couldn’t eat peppers and onions at all.
    • Got Milk? Milk, yogurt, cheese, pudding, and other dairy products will help "coat" and sooth your stomach, too – just don’t have too much or you’ll feel full and bloated.
    • Drink your Water! Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water during your day. This will help your food digest, as well as dilute your stomach acid that causes indigestion and heartburn. Just make sure you stop drinking your water about two hours before bed, or you'll be up all night visiting the ladies' room.
    • Elevate your Shoulders. Try sleeping with your head and shoulder slightly elevated (which only works until about the 8th month, when you can’t really elevate your head and shoulders while sleeping on your side).
  • Back Aches and Leg Cramps. Pain in your back and leg result from all that extra weight you’re carrying. When you’re lying in bed you’re more likely to notice the pain than when you’re up and about. There are a few steps that you can take to help eliminate or limit back pain that keeps you up at night – most of them are things you can do during your day:
    • Support Your Tummy. Use a maternity support belt or cradle to help support your tummy during the day. This will take the stress and strain off of your back during the day, and you'll have less aches at night.
    • Support Your Breasts. A good night's sleep is actually a benefit of a good maternity support bra. Proper support will help reduce the strain your upper back may experience as your breasts become larger. You might think about wearing a maternity bra (soft support) to bed for added breast comfort.
    • Give your Feet a Break. Don’t stand on your feet for large periods of time. Take frequent breaks, and keep your feet elevated.
    • Three Cheers for Massages!! Leg and back massages do wonders to help relieve back strain and relax legs.
    • Hit the Shower. Warm (not hot) showers or baths right before bedtime will help your muscles relax as well.
    • When a Leg Cramp Hits - Stretch. Try stretching your calf by flexing your foot heel first, gently massaging your leg, placing a hot water bottle on the cramped area, or getting up and walking around. Eating more calcium-rich foods may also help.
    • Find Support. Proper pillow support for your back, legs and tummy will help you sleep comfortably at night, too.
    • Go Bananas. Eating more bananas may help with the leg cramps, too.
  • Itchy Skin. As your tummy – and other areas of your body – grows, your skin will stretch. In many cases this will cause your skin to feel dry and itchy.
    • Don’t scratch! Scratching will tear your skin and may help stretch marks appear.
    • Take a warm shower before bed, and liberally apply a good body lotion or skin cream to moisturize your skin and alleviate the itchy feeling.
  • The Frequent – or constant – Need to Empty your Bladder. As a pregnant woman, you probably feel like you spend more time in the bathroom than anywhere else. There are a few things you can do to help with the nighttime bathroom trips:
    • Drink as little as possible starting two hours before bedtime.
    • Make sure you completely empty your bladder whenever you do make a trip. Leaning slightly forward (well, as forward as your tummy will let you) will help make sure you’re empty. This is also a great trick when you go to the ob or midwife’s office and they want you to take a pee test – for the first time in three months you don’t HAVE to go.
  • Increased Heart Rate. This one is a tough one – because once you’re aware that your heart seems to be racing, it’s hard to ignore. Use the tricks from birth class to slow down your breathing and relax.
  • Shortness of Breath. It’s hard to sleep when you feel like you can’t breathe. Again, use the breathing and relaxation techniques from birth class to help. You might also try elevating your head, shoulders, and upper back to help relief the pressure from your lungs, and make breathing easier.
  • Anxiety. There is so much to worry about when you’re pregnant. Is your baby okay? Are you eating right? How is labor going to go? Finances may also be an overwhelming concern, as well as how the siblings may adjust to a new baby.
    • It’s hard to say “don’t dwell on it”. Rely on your relaxation and breathing techniques to help clear your mind.
    • Being prepared and informed is your best defense against anxiety about the unknown. If you’re worried about finances (maybe you’re going to stay home and go from a dual income to a single income family), plan a budget, and see how you can tighten it up a bit. Make sure you plan well – bags are packed, emergency numbers on hand, any arrangements that need to be made with family and friends to make sure children, pets and plants are taken care of during the Big Day. Study up on whatever you find you’re worrying about – birth defects, labor, the first days with a new baby – etc. One of my friends kept a notepad by her bed. Whenever she found herself ‘fretting’ over an issue, she’d write it down with any notes she could think of, and then ‘set it aside’. The next morning she’d take care of whatever was on the list that was keeping her up at night.
  • You’re too Hot – or too Cold. You’ve just got to love those pregnancy hormones. There are a few things you can do to combat sleep-depriving temperature changes.

    • Wear loose, comfortable clothes to bed. Cotton is ideal, because it will let your body ‘breathe’.
    • Use soft, high-thread cotton sheets. These will help you keep cooler as well.
    • "Layer” your bedding. Stay away from thick quilts and feather-filled duvets. As warm and cozy as they are during the cold months, they’ll heat you up real fast when you’re pregnant. Put two or three blankets on your bed instead, that way you can fling the layers aside if you’re just too warm.
    • Don’t wear socks to bed, as they will keep your body heat in, making your feet warm.
    • If you tend to be too cold, you might think about wearing socks to bed – just vice versa what happens when you’re too hot.
    • Have an extra blanket at the bottom of the bed. Instead of folding the blanket into a square, accordian fold it on top of itself. This way, if you get too cold during the night you can just pull it up without unfolding it.
  • Dreams Become more Vivid than Usual. I don’t have an answer for you on this one. Vivid, strange, disturbing, and sometimes erotic dreams come with your pregnancy. The types of pregnancy dreams vary almost as much as pregnant women. Increased progesterone and increased awakenings from dream-filled REM (rapid eye movement) sleep are the suspects. If your dreams are disturbing and causing you anxiety, talk to your doctor about it.
  • Baby is Growing, or Baby is Kicking – or both. There’s nothing that you can really do about this, either. The baby is going to grow, and the baby is going to kick, no matter how much you plead with him and her to just rest for a few minutes. Try to get comfortable, put on soothing music, and try your relaxation techniques. Your baby is very much in tune with your own emotions, heartbeat, etc., and the hope is that if you’re relaxed and soothed, your baby will become relaxed and soothed, too.
  • You’re Not Use to Sleeping this Way! Until about the 6th month you can pretty much sleep in any position you’re comfortable in. Once your belly gets big, however, you’ll be limited to your back and your side. Shortly thereafter, you should be sleeping on your left side when pregnant. This doesn’t bother too many women that usually sleep on their sides, but for back and tummy sleepers, the change can cause a delay in getting to sleep and a problem getting a good night’s sleep. Stacking pillows around you for support or, better yet, a good body pillow will help you get in a good position for sleep, and hopefully make getting to (and staying) asleep easier.
  • You Snore. Loud enough to wake yourself up, let alone your partner! While snoring is a normal part of pregnancy, you don't have to take this pregnancy sypmtom lying down. There are 'nasal' strips that you can purchase that will help to open your airways. Elevating your head and shoulders might help as well. Watch your weight as well, as there is a correlation between being heavy and snoring. Snoring is not something to be taken lightly, as it could be an indication of more serious issues. Talk to your doctor if your snoring really is keeping you up at night.
  • Restless Leg Syndrome. The good news is that pregnancy-induced RLS (which tends to make an appearance during the last trimester) usually disappears about four weeks after the baby is born. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes (don’t let the site name intimidate you – if you have pregnancy-induced RLS, you have little to worry about!) suggest the following as ways to self-treat RLS during pregnancy:
    • Decreased use of caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco may provide some relief.
    • Deficiencies in iron, folate, and magnesium are thought to contribute to RLS. Make sure you’re getting enough of these minerals in your pre-natals.
    • Studies also have shown that maintaining a regular sleep pattern can reduce symptoms.
    • Some people find that a daily exercise routine helps RLS symptoms while other patients report that excessive exercise will aggravate RLS symptoms.
    • Taking a hot bath, massaging the legs, or using a heating pad or ice pack can help relieve symptoms in some RLS sufferers.
    • While one technique might work for one person, it may not work for you. If you do suffer from RLS, don’t get discouraged if the first ‘remedy’ you try doesn’t work. Try a different one, or a combination of several. Don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor or midwife about your trouble sleeping. Let them know what might be contributing to your sleeplessness, and what steps you’ve taken to try and get to sleep.

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The information on this website is designed for educational purposes only. The information is NOT intended to be a substitute for medical care. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have.