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Sleep is an important aspect of human life, which helps the body recover physically, emotionally and mentally. Sleep deprivation is known to have severe psychological side-effects like depression and anxiety. Lack of sleep becomes a struggle if you are pregnant, aggravating the problems of an already strained body and mind to extreme levels.
Why Sleeping Well During Pregnancy is Hard
Sleepless nights during pregnancy are very common because there are basic changes in the chemical composition of the body every trimester and it takes a couple of months for the body to adapt. A study done in 2016 claims that 78% of women have trouble sleeping at one, if not numerous, points during pregnancy. The one common misconception about sleep, however, is that during pregnancy, quantity matters over quality. It is nearly impossible to hit the optimum depth of ‘deep sleep’ in order to complete more than one cycle of REM. This acts as a measure to see how the quality of sleep for pregnant women is. For an average human, it is estimated that one REM cycle requires at least 1.5 hours of sleep, the physiological nature of pregnancy can affect sleep quality.
This means that if a pregnant woman hypothetically sleeps for 8 hours throughout the day, it would barely equal a total of 2 hours as the continuity and depth of sleep is limited. Pregnant women are known to be hyper-aware of their body and its condition; this is a blessing and a curse. This acts as a warning mechanism when things go wrong, but they also mean you are aware of yourself when attempting to sleep which means you wake up far more frequently and reduce the number of REM cycles you hit per session. Thus, the quality of sleep decreases as the pregnancy gets into its later stages. Sleeplessness during pregnancy isn’t a challenge commonly spoken about but it is probably the one challenge that sneaks up on you and begins to affect you the most.
Reasons Behind Sleeplessness in Pregnancy
Each trimester comes with its own psychological challenges that may affect your sleep. It is crucial for this reason that we begin to take steps to combat insomnia during pregnancy. The first step towards a healthier REM cycle is understanding the causes of sleeplessness during pregnancy:
1. Frequent Urination
When It Happens: This is a frequent problem that causes insomnia throughout your pregnancy, it becomes a problem as early as the first trimester and stays the course of the pregnancy.
Why Does It Happen: A hormone called HCG which is associated with pregnancy causes an increased tendency to urinate during the first semester. Additionally, your kidney is filtering almost double the amount of blood during your pregnancy causing the frequency to further increase. During the third trimester, the foetus is big enough to put pressure on the bladder; this also causes the need to wake up at nights to urinate.
What Can You Do About It: Keeping yourself hydrated more frequently throughout the day, give about a couple of hours between your last sip of water and sleep. Do not panic, as frequent urination whether at night or the day is a normal part of pregnancy.
2. Emotional Stress
When It Happens: This can happen at any point during the pregnancy and can be recurrent.
Why Does It Happen: The hormonal imbalance during pregnancy may lead to mood swings, it is commonly due to the rapid change in emotions that the mother may possibly face emotional stress. This is known to have an effect that is directly related to lack of sleep during pregnancy.
What Can You Do About It: Integrate more stress relief techniques into your daily routine like meditation, aromatherapy and counselling. This can help keep the emotional stress under control.
3. Physical Stress
When It Happens: This can happen at any point during the pregnancy and can be recurrent.
Why Does It Happen: The same hormonal imbalance that causes emotional stress with the addition of the growth of the foetus puts physical strain on the mother’s body, leading to joint and lower back pain, fatigue, and migraines. These are known to disrupt sleep on a regular basis.
What Can You Do About It: Try improving your blood circulation by implementing a workout routine (prenatal yoga, short walks, pilates) recommended by your doctor.
4. Heart Burn
When It Happens: You can be afflicted by heartburn at any time during your pregnancy. However, it occurs more in the night as you lay down to sleep.
Why Does It Happen: Pregnancy hormones relax the muscle that keeps your stomach fluids contained in the stomach. In the last trimester, this will increase as the baby will push up against your stomach.
What Can You Do About It: You should maintain a healthy a diet that restricts the intake of certain food types, have small frequent meals at a proper time (2 hours prior to sleeping) and use pillows to keep your head elevated.
5. Leg Cramps
When It Happens: You can get leg cramps at any time during your pregnancy but most commonly it manifests in the second half of the pregnancy.
Why Does It Happen: Cramps probably occur because of the compression and fatigue in the legs as you carry the extra weight. Leg cramps are more common in the night.
What Can You Do About It: Deficiency in magnesium and calcium causes leg cramps. You may take supplements as prescribed by your doctor, drink plenty of water, do yoga, flex your foot towards the ankle to relieve yourself of the pain.
6. Nasal Congestion
When It Happens: This can affect you at any trimester and at any time during the pregnancy.
Why Does It Happen: Due to hormonal changes, the volume of blood in your body including the membranes of your nose increases, causing them to swell and produce more mucus to create a perpetually stuffy nose. In the later parts of your pregnancy, this could become a post nasal drip which will cause coughing.
What Can You Do About It: The solution for this condition is nasal saline sprays. You could also opt for nose strips. However, if these methods do not help you, you could ask your doctor who might prescribe steroid nasal sprays or decongestants.
7. Sleep Apnea
When It Happens: This, usually, can affect you at any period of time during pregnancy. However, it only plays a part when you are sleeping.
Why Does It Happen: This condition is mainly due to the nose struggling to breathe normally because of the excess weight gain that accompanies pregnancy. Sleep apnea is linked to high blood pressure and certain types of diabetes.
What Can You Do About It: Sleeping with a humidifier on or wearing a nasal strip and raising your head on another pillow can also ease the condition.
When It Happens: Insomnia can affect you at any time during and after your pregnancy.
Why Does It Happen: Insomnia is a psychological disorder that does not allow you to sleep. Hormonal imbalance can be the cause of temporary insomnia.
What Can You Do About It: Talk to a therapist, address some fears you may have during the period of your pregnancy and communicate with your partner. Set up a wind-down routine for the day.
Solutions for Sleeping Problems During Pregnancy
Sleeplessness can become a major concern that has dire consequences to both the mother and child. Here are some sleeping tips during pregnancy:
- Avoid anything that can keep you awake for extended periods of time after lunch. This includes energy drinks, coffee, and spicy foods.
- Warm milk is considered a great relaxant, drink a glass of warm milk at nights to help you sleep.
- Give yourself a break between dinner and bedtime. The same can be said about water. Consume both food and water at least 2 hours before bed. This helps digestion and lets you sleep better.
- Sugar highs are your worst enemy; stay away from those sweet cravings 4-5 hours before bed.
- Stay away from the screens. It has been proven that your phone, laptop, and tv are huge stress magnets at night. Go tech-free while going to bed.
- Try having a warm bath with bath salts and candles, and set the mood for a relaxing end to the day.
- Staying sexually active releases vital chemicals that keeps you calm and relaxed. It also alleviates stress and helps you sleep better.
- Make sure you are well ventilated; crack a window or turn on the AC. Waking up because you feel stuffy can interrupt sleep, so make sure you have a well-ventilated room.
- Try keeping yourself active. Do some prenatal yoga, meditate and take short walks. This helps your blood circulate and that eases tension.
- Sometimes, just talking to your partner about your fears, frustrations, and insecurities helps you sleep at night.
- Sleeplessness during pregnancy can be an extremely frustrating thing. It is important not to jump the gun and risk your health or your child’s health. Any habits integrated or actions taken should be done after consulting medical personnel.
It is common to have issues with sleep at any point during your pregnancy. Restful sleep is essential to your health and the development of the foetus. Ensure that you build a sleeping schedule which helps you unwind and relax at this crucial period in your life.