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pregnant women

Pregnancy insomnia: Guide to sleeping during pregnancy

24 Jan 2023 • 3 min read

Feeling like a fertility goddess growing life, but also a full-time zombie battling sleep deprivation? This article is for you.

Sleep disturbances, such as insomnia, are common in pregnancy,1 but why do they occur?

Our guide highlights the most common causes of pregnancy insomnia, as well as 9 top tips to help you sleep better while pregnant.

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What is insomnia?

Insomnia refers to a condition where people struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep.

Those who have insomnia may wake up feeling tired even if they’ve had enough time to sleep.

Some of the most common insomnia symptoms include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Waking up multiple times in the night
  • Lying awake at night

There are also multiple types of insomnia, including acute insomnia (short-term episodes); chronic insomnia (extended periods); behavioural insomnia of childhood (struggling to fall asleep independently); and maintenance insomnia (waking up throughout the night).

When does pregnancy insomnia start?

Although women can experience insomnia during all stages of pregnancy, it’s typically more common in the first trimester.

However, insomnia during pregnancy in the third trimester can also be common – one study found that 98% of women in their third trimester reportedly experienced sleep problems such as nocturnal awakenings.2

Why does pregnancy insomnia happen?

Early pregnancy insomnia can be caused by a shift in your hormones, which causes a host of pregnancy symptoms.

All of these new symptoms (e.g. nausea, increased urination) can disrupt your body clock (circadian rhythm) and affect your sleep cycles.

Some of the most common causes of pregnancy insomnia include:

Nausea or vomiting

 

Back pain

 

Frequent need to urinate

 

Vivid dreams

 

Leg cramps

 

Night sweats

 

Stress related

 

How to sleep in early pregnancy: 9 top tips

  1. Unwind

The first, which should be at the top of any mother-to-be’s tip list, is to relax and unwind.

Light some candles, give yourself a manicure (maybe not a pedicure depending on how far along you are!), apply a face mask… employ the full works of relaxation to get you in the sleepy mindset.

You might also be tempted to go for a long, hot bath to make you drowsy before bedtime. However, ensure the water is not too warm, as because you’re likely to feel warmer during your pregnancy, a bath too hot could lead to dehydration or overheating.6

  1. Bedtime routine

Following a fairly strict bedtime routine will benefit you in the long run if you’re struggling to sleep at night while pregnant.

Although waking up in the morning when you feel unrested will be tricky at first, if you encourage your body to stick to a certain sleep/wake routine, this could help to alleviate the symptoms of your pregnancy insomnia.

  1. Diet

Diet and nutrition can have a large impact on your quality of sleep, with certain foods and drinks making it easier, or harder, to drift off to sleep.

For example, high carbohydrate intake is linked to an increase in the number of times you wake during the night, and a reduction in the amount of deep sleep you get.

It’s best to ensure you maintain a balanced diet, including lots of fruits and veggies to keep you and your baby healthy, as this is likely to contribute to better sleep and promote a healthy weight.8

By eating smaller, more frequent meals, this may also help to avoid any heartburn you may be experiencing as a side effect of pregnancy.

(Top tip: sleeping on your left side with your head elevated can also help with pesky heartburn symptoms!)9

  1. Exercise

There have been multiple studies suggesting that exercise has long been associated with better sleep,10 so this theory still stands when you’re pregnant, too.

Try and keep as active as possible in order to let your body feel ready for rest come night-time – whether that’s taking part in antenatal yoga, Pilates or gentle swimming.

You may find that as you become more pregnant, your exercise capability may decrease. Listen to your body and what it needs, as the Pilates class you could easily finish in your first trimester may become much trickier when entering into your third!

  1. Environment

Not creating the right environment is sometimes half the problem if you have trouble sleeping while pregnant.

As you’ll likely be sleepier during the day,11 you might start using the bedroom for daytime naps, or recharges.

Whilst this is helpful to feel relaxed during the day, by night-time, your body may have adjusted so much to this environment that it’s not deemed as ‘sleepy territory’ any longer.

Keep the bedroom separate from your daytime activities, and make sure it’s cool, dark and oozes a sense of relaxation.

  1. Comfort

Despite how hard you try, you may just be struggling to get (and stay) comfortable at night.

If this sounds like you, why not try out a pregnancy pillow?

Designed to support your bump or legs, many mums-to-be swear by these for ultimate comfort, especially as your bump is growing.

The changes your body is experiencing may also add to you not being able to feel comfortable at night. If you are experiencing tender breasts, you could also invest in a properly fitted sleeping bra to protect sore boobs during the night while you sleep.

  1. Empty your bladder

As frequent urination is so common in pregnancy, try to empty your bladder before you get into bed to minimise the night-time disruptions.

It’s also helpful to avoid drinking lots of fluids up to a couple of hours before you want to hit the hay.

  1. Position

It’s recommended that the safest position to sleep while pregnant is lying on your side.12

However, that in itself can sometimes offer troubles when you’re struggling to sleep, as you may have fears of rolling onto your back or find sleeping on your side isn’t the most comfortable for you.

Again, a pregnancy pillow may be the answer to your prayers here – play around with pillows and cushions to support your legs and bump until you feel more comfortable.

  1. Ask for help

Of course, if you’re really having trouble sleeping in early pregnancy, one of the best things you can do is ask for help.

Could your partner help with any older children when they wake in the night? Or perhaps a relative or friend can come and take care of the house while you catch up on some sleep during the day?

Pregnancy can be a stressful time for some women, so ensure you’re reaching out to your support network when you need them.

Can pregnancy insomnia harm my baby?

Despite common misconceptions, pregnancy insomnia is not likely to harm your baby in any way.13

However, you yourself could experience side effects of sleep deprivation, such as poor memory, lack of concentration, and low energy, as well as a higher chance of experiencing mental health issues, such as feelings of anxiety or depression.

If your pregnancy insomnia is impacting your day-to-day life in this way, make sure to get in touch with your GP for professional healthcare advice.

Now you’ve learnt the causes of pregnancy insomnia and some top tips to help you and your bump get the rest you need, our guides on how to fight fatigue and tips for sleeping better are here to provide you with any additional help and support.

The advice in this article is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP or healthcare professional before trying any supplements, treatments or remedies. Food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle. 

Last updated: 24 January 2023

Sources

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5017073/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5017073/
  3. https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/related-conditions/common-symptoms/back-pain/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24780135/
  5. https://naytal.uk/blog/hot-flushes-night-sweats-pregnancy
  6. https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/pregnancy/is-it-safe-to-use-a-sauna-or-jacuzzi-if-i-am-pregnant
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5015038/
  8. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/nutrition
  9. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/sleep-during-pregnancy/art-20043827
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4341978/
  11. https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/related-conditions/common-symptoms/tiredness
  12. https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/related-conditions/common-symptoms/tiredness/
  13. https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/related-conditions/common-symptoms/tiredness/#:~:text=Insomnia%20remedies%20in%20pregnancy,early%20nights%20during%20the%20week.
 
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