So you’re pregnant and you can’t sleep. You toss and turn, you switch positions, you get up to pee what seems like every five minutes. Then there’s the heartburn and the trouble breathing… you wish they taught you how to sleep during pregnancy!
Wait, have any of your friends told you that the lack of sleep is supposed to prepare you for your newborn, when sleep supposedly goes away for ever?
It’s a bunch of crap: You’re supposed to sleep well during pregnancy! Healthy sleep is important to growing a healthy baby. It’s as important as healthy diet and healthy exercise during pregnancy – maybe more important.
Need a SLEEP COACH?
Here’s what you need to do to get the best sleep possible during pregnancy.
How to sleep during pregnancy
Many moms-to-be report sleep troubles starting during the first trimester, even before they start showing. There are a number of reasons for this, most of them hormonal. And sometimes pregnant moms just stay up at night and stress about having a newborn. This is understandable, but there are ways to get into good sleep habits early. You’ll be grateful these habits during the third trimester!
- Stop napping during the day. I put the toughest one first. I know you’re worn out. Progesterone does that to you. But you’ll screw up your night time sleep if you nap!
- Eat well and exercise regularly. There’s a tight relationship between diet, exercise and sleep. It turns out that people who eat well tend to have better energy for exercise and they sleep better. People who exercise regularly tend to eat better and sleep better… and so on, each good habit supports the other!
- De-stress. Easier said than done, right? Along with diet and exercise, stress reduction is one of the foundations of staying healthy during pregnancy. It almost doesn’t matter what you do to help reduce your stress: do yoga, quit your job, stop watching the news, anything. Motherhood is stressful enough: better to discard useless sources of stress before baby arrives [hint: all sources of stress are useless]
- Quit caffeine and late night television. Both will keep you up at night. Full-disclosure: I’m addicted to caffeine. I really and truly feel for all my fellow caffeine addicts who must cut back during pregnancy. It’s so worth it. TV (and internet) at night are just too stimulating. Good advice to remember for raising your baby!
- Lay off the cell phone. This is a #21stcenturymom problem. It’s as stimulating as coffee with dinner or Saturday Night Live. Best to leave the phone somewhere outside the bedroom. Any kind of light stimulation, including the bathroom light, will make it tougher for you to fall back asleep.
- Keep a routine and go to bed at a decent hour. This is a great habit to get into, not only for pregnancy but also for helping baby sleep well. You’d be surprised how helpful it is to stick to a routine. Having a reasonably consistent pattern to your day will absolutely help you sleep better at night. The regular schedule and the early sleep hour are two of the best kept secrets in the world of sleep. And I just revealed them to you. You’re welcome.
When sleep starts to get uncomfortable
As you progress into the later trimesters, many moms start noticing that they just can’t get comfortable when they lay down to sleep. There are several reasons for this, and all of them are fixable.
- Restless legs. It’s a real thing, folks. Restless leg syndrome feels like pins and needles, or a crawling sensation on your legs. Some mothers report that it’s actually painful. In some cases, the pain could be from swelling at your ankles. If you’re getting this, please tell your OB! No one knows what causes restless leg, and if we knew how to prevent it, that would be great. The best remedies I know of are the old stand-by’s: eat healthy, exercise regularly, and reduce stress.
- GER. Also known as “reflux”. Even moms who never had it before often get it during pregnancy. This is probably due to the added pressure in your belly causing stomach acid to head in the wrong direction: up toward your throat. The burning sensation makes lots of mom’s feel nauseous and actually throw up (quite apart from morning sickness).
- The best first step to helping heartburn is to avoid caffeine (see a pattern developing here?), spicy foods, and cruciferous vegetables, like kale. My apologies to you lovers of kale out there: if you have heartburn, you might consider cutting back.
- Try to increase the amount of time between dinner and bed time, to give food time to digest. And avoid snacking before bed. That goes for fluids as well!
- Try sleeping on 2-3 extra pillows.
- Tiny bladder syndrome. That’s not really what it’s called. I made it up. Your bladder will not get tiny unless it was tiny to begin with. What happens is that your uterus, which happens to be right next to your bladder, is getting larger and full of baby. And it’s leaving less room for your bladder to get full. So you will feel like you have to pee way more often. The remedy is to reduce your fluids at dinner and take nothing to drink after that, unless it’s a sip to get a pill to swallow a prescribed medicine. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to drink during the day and you should. Just not so much at night.
- Trouble breathing. Your bladder isn’t the only organ getting crowded out. There’s also your lungs. There’s only so much space in your body. You’ve got your lungs in your chest and you’ve got a growing baby in your belly. When you lay down, the contents of your belly tend to press up against your chest cavity and make that space smaller. Something’s gotta give, and for many moms, that’s total lung capacity. The way to manage this is similar to the way you manage heartburn: let gravity be your friend. Prop up your upper body with 2-3 extra pillows. Let gravity pull your belly down and away from your lungs.
- Back pain. Lots of moms complain of sore backs, especially lower backs. At some point, if you’re a back sleeper, you may have to give up on this position and go to sleeping on your side, with a pillow between your legs. The larger, cylindrical pillows are great too.
- Speaking of sleeping on your side. It turns out that sleeping on your left side is better than your right. Why? Because when you’re on your left side the baby inside you won’t press as hard on some important blood vessels. Your circulation will be better and so will baby’s.
How much sleep should you get during pregnancy?
The answer is: the same amount you should be getting when you’re not pregnant! Seven hours, at least, is optimal for health. Even in the latter stages of pregnancy, when you may be waking up more often, it’s best if you limit light stimulation, avoid drinking fluids, and try to go back to sleep.
So if your friends tell you that “pregnancy sleep” is supposed to get you ready for “newborn sleep”, they’re actually right, but not for the reasons that they think. Healthy sleep habits will make your pregnancy better, and they’ll make life with your new baby happier and healthier.