Getting quality sleep during pregnancy is important for the mother and the baby. It keeps them healthy and helps in the proper growth and development of the baby. However, most women find it difficult to have a fulfilling sleep in pregnancy for several reasons.
Making certain changes to the bedtime routine and finding the right sleeping position could help solve sleeping problems. Read on to know how lack of sleep affects pregnancy, common sleep issues in pregnancy, and some sleep hygiene tips to help you sleep better.
How Does The Lack Of Sleep Affect Pregnancy?
About 50 percent of all pregnant women are suspected to experience insomnia (1). Research suggests that women who do not get enough sleep during pregnancy are at a higher risk of developing pregnancy-associated complications such as (2):
- High blood pressure
- Gestational diabetes
- Longer labors
- Increased risk of cesarean section (in women who sleep for less than six hours in 24 hours)
Why Does Sleep Change During Pregnancy?
There are several different problems associated with sleep disturbances in pregnancy. They may be anatomical, physiological, hormonal, or psychological in nature. The following are some common problems (1) (3).
- Increased body weight
- Fluctuating hormones
- Breast tenderness
- Increased heart rate
- Increased body temperature
- Frequent urination
- Leg cramps
- Back pain
- Trouble finding a comfortable sleeping position
- Anxiety about labor and delivery
- Worry about juggling between the baby and work
- Vivid dreams in the third trimester
What Are The Common Sleep Problems During Pregnancy?
The following are some common disorders that cause sleep problems in pregnancy (1).
1. Obstructive sleep apnea
- Some pregnant women may develop obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which is a sleep condition characterized by snoring, gasping, and occasional lapses in breathing, leading to a disturbed sleep pattern.
- Weight gain and nasal congestion may cause many women to snore, which is a risk factor for high blood pressure.
- OSA may reduce oxygen supply to the fetus in some cases.
- The condition leads to an increased risk of preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and cesarean delivery.
- OSA is seen to affect about one in five pregnant women.
2. Restless legs syndrome
- Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is characterized by crawling, tickling, itching, and an uncontrollable urge to keep the legs constantly moving.
- RLS can in pregnancy makes it difficult for the woman to fall asleep.
- The symptoms of RLS worsen when at rest.
- RLS affects up to one-third of all pregnant women in the third trimester of pregnancy.
3. Gastroesophageal reflux disorder
- Gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD) is characterized by an uncomfortable burning sensation in the esophagus, especially when lying down.
- It is also known as heartburn or acid reflux.
- GERD is one of the common causes of acid reflux in pregnant women.
- Long-term GERD may cause irreversible damage to the esophagus.
4. Morning sickness
- Although called morning sickness, it lingers all day long for some women, while for some, it might worsen at night time.
- Eating a few plain crackers at bedtime and keeping a few more by your bedside can help you keep nausea down.
Are There Any Sleep Hygiene Tips For Pregnant Women?
- Prioritize sleep over other things and stick to sleeping and waking up at the same time each day, even on weekends.
- Take naps earlier in the day so that it does not interfere with night sleeping.
- The bed should be used only for sleep and relaxation. Refrain from using the bed for activities such as reading a book, watching television, or working on your laptop.
- Indulge in gentle exercising for at least 30 minutes each day if your doctor permits.
- Indulge in a calming activity, such as reading a book, taking a warm shower, or meditation, for a few minutes before you go to sleep.
- Drink plenty of water during the day but limit fluid intake two to three hours before bed so that you don’t have to wake up frequently during the night to pee.
- Eat frequent, small, and easy-to-digest meals during the day. Avoid large amounts of spicy/acidic/fried foods or caffeinated drinks. Raise your head by using more pillows to alleviate the symptoms of GERD.
- Turn off all screens at least an hour before bedtime.
- Use a dim nightlight to make falling back to sleep easier after waking up at night to pee.
- If you do not feel sleepy even after lying down in the bed for 30 minutes, get up, do some light activity and try to sleep again.
- Write down your thoughts in a journal, or seek help from your partner, friends, doctor, or counselor.
- Try and sleep on your left side and keep your knees and hips bent. Place pillows between your knees, under the abdomen, and behind your back as it helps in taking the pressure off your lower back.
What Is The Best Sleep Position?
Sleeping becomes particularly difficult for women who are habituated to sleep on the stomach or the back. When pregnant, sleeping on the left side is the best position. It improves blood and nutrients flow to the fetus. You may tuck a pillow under the stomach for extra support. If you are not comfortable with sleeping on the left, you may also sleep on the right side.
After 28 weeks of pregnancy, falling asleep on the back may double the risk of stillbirth. However, in case you wake up on your back, do not worry. Shift your position to either side and go to sleep again (5).
When To See A Doctor?
You must tell your healthcare provider if you notice any symptoms of insomnia. Lack of sleep during pregnancy may be linked to high blood pressure, preeclampsia, pre-term birth, and other pregnancy-related complications.
The doctor will check your blood pressure at your prenatal visits. If you experience severe headaches or swelling of your hands, ankles, or feet, your doctor may recommend additional tests.
The following are the symptoms of preeclampsia (6).
- Severe headache
- Blurred vision
- Not urinating frequently
- Abdominal pain on the upper right side
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Is it okay to sleep a lot during pregnancy?
Increased sleep is a commonly reported phenomenon in the first trimester of pregnancy. Many women feel very tired in the first trimester of pregnancy and hence need more sleep than usual (7). However, if you feel sleepy all the time and find it unusual, report it to your doctor.
2. Can I hurt my baby by sleeping on my right side?
Some researchers have found that sleeping on the left side is best during pregnancy as it may reduce the risk of stillbirth and also helps in getting rid of waste products and fluids from the body. Although there are no proven risks of sleeping on the right, the advantages of left side sleeping make it a preference for many women (8).
3. Does the fetus sleep when the mother sleeps?
The fetus may or may not sleep when the mother does. From around 18 weeks of pregnancy, fetuses like to sleep while their mothers are awake since the movement helps rock them to sleep (9).
4. What if I accidentally sleep on my back while pregnant?
Sleeping on the back during pregnancy may put pressure on the spine and back muscles (more so in advanced pregnancy when the weight of the uterus has increased). It may also cause compression of the major blood vessel to the uterus, affecting fetal blood circulation. Therefore, sleeping on your side is recommended, especially in the second and third trimesters (10). However, an accidental, short nap on your back may not be worrisome. You can turn to your side once you wake up.
Proper and adequate sleep during pregnancy is essential. It aids in achieving a healthy pregnancy by minimizing the risks of problems, such as preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and prolonged labor. Therefore, if you face difficulty sleeping during pregnancy and notice symptoms of such illnesses that interfere with your sleep, consult your OB/GYN immediately to prevent further complications. Ensure to follow the sleep hygiene tips for sound sleep to keep yourself and your baby safe.
- It’s estimated that 50% of all pregnant women have insomnia.
- Sleep difficulties are linked to physical, physiological, hormonal, and psychological changes during pregnancy.
- Sleep disorders, including obstructive sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome, are frequent during pregnancy.
- Pregnancy and Sleep
- Get a Good Night\’s Sleep During Pregnancy
- Sleep disorders in pregnancy
- Sleep Hygiene in Pregnancy
- Tiredness and sleep problems
- Sleep and Pregnancy
- First Trimester Fatigue
- Sleep position in pregnancy Q&A
- Bonding with your baby during pregnancy.
- Can I sleep on my back when I’m pregnant?