Parkland Medical Center - January 29, 2020

Between the “morning” sickness (that stays all day), fatigue, and just being uncomfortable, a good night’s sleep can be hard to come by during pregnancy. Sleep problems are worst in the first and third trimesters when the body is going through the most physical and emotional changes.

The National Institutes of Health recommends that mothers-to-be spend at least 8 hours in bed each night, so they can get at least 7 hours of sleep. Proper sleep and rest during pregnancy nurtures the developing baby, and can help women who are pregnant feel less irritable and makes concentration easier throughout the day.

Here are some tips for making sleep a priority during your pregnancy.

Make sleep your routine

Start by getting into a routine of going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. Once your body’s internal clock gets the hint, you’ll be able to depart from the routine when the need arises.

Sleep on your left side

Your regular sleeping position may no longer work during pregnancy. And sleeping on your back isn’t ideal, because it puts pressure on the spine and intestines (and possibly your baby). Try sleeping on your left side. It’s a proven position for lessening heartburn, a common sleep disruptor during pregnancy, and this position gives the most room for your organs and baby to share. If you happen to wake up on your back or belly in the morning, don’t panic. While it’s not ideal, you’re better off getting a restful night’s sleep than not sleeping at all.

Prop with pillows

Put your pillows in the right position to help take some pressure off:

  • For belly and back support: Prop a pillow under your tummy and between your knees
  • To relieve heartburn: Use an additional pillow under your head to keep acids from working their way up your esophagus
  • For shortness of breath (common toward the end of pregnancy): Put a pillow under your side to raise your chest

If your doctor gives you the go-ahead, a store-bought “pregnancy pillow” can help keep your body in the ideal position without having multiple pillows slipping out of place while you sleep.

Lower the temperature

Your body’s temperature increases during pregnancy, due to increased hormones and metabolic rate, so you might feel hotter than usual. You’ll probably find the most comfortable temperature on your thermostat is just a few degrees lower than what you’re used to. It also helps to only partially cover yourself with a blanket.

Limit fluid intake before bed

As your baby gets larger and takes up more space in your belly, the urge to pee can be relentless. Your kidneys are also working extra hard for two, which can also be a major disruption of sleep. To reduce bathroom visits, limit the amount of fluid you drink an hour before bed. You still need plenty of fluids during the day to prevent swelling and constipation. But cut back in the evenings to get a better night’s sleep. Also, eliminate caffeinated drinks like soda, coffee, and tea in the late afternoon as much as possible—they can trigger the bladder to work even faster.

Turn out the light

Too much light confuses your body into thinking it’s daytime. That can make it hard to fall asleep or get back to sleep after waking in the middle of the night. Make your room as dark as possible. Lower the light on your alarm clock and avoid using devices like cell phones and tablets in bed since they can disturb the natural sleep cycle. To light the way for your many nighttime bathroom breaks, use nightlights so you don’t have to turn on the lights.

Take it easy before bed

The need to unwind before bed is more important than ever during pregnancy. Avoid rigorous exercise right before bed. Try a more relaxing activity, like yoga or meditation (as your doctor allows). Reading a book also helps, because it keeps your mind focused on one thing and does not require bright light or noise. Resist the urge to use electronic devices to check social media or parenting sites around bedtime—this may cause unnecessary anxiety. If fear and anxiety are keeping you awake, consider enrolling in a childbirth or parenting class. More knowledge and the company of other pregnant women may help to ease the fears keeping you awake.

Beds are made for one (or two) things

Don’t respond to email or pay your bills in bed. Your body should know that your bed is for one (or two) things, like sleeping and sex. Keep it trained that way, so it makes it easier for you to fall asleep.

Skip late night snacks

You may be eating for two, but try not to eat two hours before bedtime. This will avoid spikes in blood sugar that can increase wakefulness. It will also lessen the chance of acid reflux or heartburn, which can make you uncomfortable in bed.

Kick leg cramps to the curb

During the second trimester, leg cramps are especially common. Pregnant women who are prone to anemia or low iron levels may also experience restless legs syndrome (an irresistible urge to move your legs). For either problem, the only relief is to get out of bed and walk around, stretching your leg muscles. In this case, getting out of bed for a while will get you to sleep faster than trying to sleep through the problem. If it happens often, talk to your doctor about diet changes that may help.

Keep naps short and sweet

You’ll probably need to nap from time to time during your pregnancy. Just remember to keep them short—between 20 and 40 minutes—to avoid falling into deep sleep. Any longer and you’ll likely find it hard to wake up and feel groggy, instead of refreshed from your nap. Even if you do feel rested, a long nap will make it harder for you to get to sleep in the evening and mix up your body’s natural clock.

Remember that sleep problems are common during pregnancy. By making it a priority and tweaking your routine, you can make sure that you are getting the rest you need.

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