How Pregnancy Effects Your Sleep & Tips to Overcome Sleeplessness

Effects of Pregnancy on Your Sleep

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Sabiha Anjum (Gynecologist/Obstetrician)
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Research shows that more than 78% of women have complained about disturbed sleep during pregnancy. Here are some questions related to the effects of pregnancy on sleep, and their answers that can prepare you to try sleeping like a baby during pregnancy!

Video: Effects of Pregnancy on Your Sleep

Pregnancy and Sleep

Pregnancy can have a major impact on your ability to sleep well. Research reveals that hormonal changes are the cause of irregular sleeping patterns during pregnancy. If you have any sleep-related difficulties, they might get aggravated, making it harder to sleep.

Many women also experience sleep problems for the first time during pregnancy. Sleep-related issues may originate when you conceive or during the later stages. However, sleeplessness and disturbed sleep usually increase as you advance into the later stages of pregnancy. Frequently waking up at nights is a common problem during the last trimester. You must be aware that fatigue and pregnancy go hand in hand. Lack of sleep is one of the catalysts for increased fatigue.

What Causes Sleeplessness While Pregnant?

Pregnancy brings a lot of changes to your body. These changes can impact your physical and emotional well-being. Pregnancy sleep can be a nightmarish experience for some women, so make sure you read about it to equip yourself to deal with the worst. Now that we are aware of pregnancy affecting sleep, you must be wondering about the reasons that cause sleeplessness during this journey. Let us look at some common causes of insomnia during pregnancy:

What Causes Sleeplessness While Pregnant?

1. Hormonal Changes

One of the key changes that occur in women during pregnancy is the change in hormones. In addition to physical changes and emotional ups and downs, these hormones also affect sleep patterns. The hormones include:

  • Progesterone – This hormone relaxes smooth muscles, and can contribute to nasal congestions, heartburn and frequent urination. All these symptoms affect sleep patterns. It also decreases wakefulness during the night and reduces the amount of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, the state of sleep characterised by vivid dream imagery.
  • Estrogen – This hormone can also disturb sleep patterns if it contributes to a process known as vasodilation. Estrogen makes blood vessels larger through this process, which leads to swelling in the feet and lungs. It can affect breathing during sleep and can decrease REM sleep.
  • Oxytocin – Increased levels of oxytocin during the nights causes contractions, which affect sleep.

2. Physical and Emotional Changes

Sleeplessness during pregnancy can also be caused by various physical and emotional changes, like not finding a comfortable position to sleep well, leg cramps, nasal congestion, heartburn, shortness of breath, increased heart rate, backaches, anxiety, and Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS), a condition that gives an uncomfortable tingling sensation in your legs.

Pressure on the bladder due to the growing foetus and belly can cause frequent urination and discomfort that affects sleep.

Sleep Changes in the First Trimester

Sleeping position during pregnancy in the first trimester can be quite challenging, because you are adapting to the sudden changes that are coming your way, both physically and mentally. You might start feeling sleepy during the day, and will feel like taking short naps through the day. A higher level of progesterone makes you drowsy during the daytime but disrupts sleep at night. Sleeplessness at night also leads to fatigue during the daytime.

Tender breasts make it difficult to find a comfortable sleeping position. It is good to sleep on the left side because it improves the blood flow to the uterus and the growing foetus. It also helps in flushing out fluids and waste from your body.

The growing foetus and uterus increase the pressure on the bladder and the need for frequent urination hinders your sleep schedule.

Sleep Changes in the Second Trimester

Sleeping position during pregnancy in the second trimester can be a little relaxed for some women. Sleep improves during the second trimester. Nausea and the need for urinating frequently decline, and you tend to sleep better. Some reasons that can cause sleep disorders during this trimester include congestion, leg cramps, and Restless Legs Syndrome.

Sleep Changes in the Third Trimester

Sleeping position during pregnancy third trimester is very challenging, because you get restless and experience disturbed sleep. Research reveals that women wake up multiple times at night, and this affects their sleep. The causes for sleep disturbance during the third trimester include:

  • Itching
  • Leg cramps
  • Frequent urination
  • Heartburn
  • Forced body position in bed
  • Back pain
  • Joint pain
  • Numbness in the hands
  • Breast tenderness
  • Anxiety

What Are the Common Pregnancy Sleep Problems?

Now that we are aware that pregnancy affects sleep, let’s look at some common pregnancy sleep problems:

1. Frequent Urination

The need to urinate frequently can cause disturbance in sleep patterns. Higher levels of pregnancy hormones lead to frequent urination. The growing size of the foetus increases pressure on the bladder, inducing a feeling of uneasiness. Also, the kidneys must filter about 50 percent more blood than usual, which leads to the production of more urine.

2. General Discomfort

Finding a comfortable sleeping position becomes difficult because of the growing belly. Women who are used to sleeping on their stomach and back find it challenging to sleep peacefully without discomfort.

3. Heartburn

Hormonal changes also instigate heartburn. This can be bad at night and make it difficult for you to sleep. During the third trimester, the baby bump can worsen it.

4. Leg Cramps

As your legs carry excessive weight during pregnancy, compression of blood vessels in your legs and fatigue can cause cramps.

5. Nasal Congestion

Higher oestrogen and progesterone levels increase blood volume to the membranes in your nose. This leads to more mucus and a stuffy nose. This nasal congestion causes discomfort and coughing at night.

6. Restless Leg Syndrome

Some women suffer from RLS, which hinders sleep. This condition causes an aching and tingling sensation in the legs, and you have the urge to move your legs restlessly, thereby affecting sleep.

7. Sleep Apnea

In this condition breathing is interrupted during sleep, thereby disturbing your sleep schedule.

Sleeping Positions During Pregnancy

Sleeping posture during pregnancy plays a vital role in all the trimesters. Practicing sleeping on the side will be very helpful as you progress through your pregnancy.

The best position to sleep during pregnancy is by lying on your side with your knees bent to ensure the greatest comfort. This posture eases your heart’s job, because it keeps the baby’s weight from exerting pressure to the inferior vena cava, a vein that carries blood to the heart from your feet.

Many doctors recommend that pregnant women sleep on their left side, because it prevents the uterus from pressuring the liver. It also improves circulation to the heart, and allows easy flow of blood to the foetus, uterus and kidneys.

Try using pillows to get a comfortable sleeping position. Using a rolled-up blanket for your back may give some relief. You can consult your physician to help you in deciding a good sleeping position in pregnancy that provides you maximum comfort.

Insomnia During Pregnancy

Insomnia is a condition wherein you have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or both. Women experience insomnia during pregnancy, but it is very common during the first and third trimesters.

Anxiousness, nausea, back pain, leg cramps, frequent urination, and shortness of breath are some of the reasons for insomnia. Although you cannot completely avoid sleep discomforts, there are some tips that can help you get better sleep during pregnancy.

Tips for Better Sleep While You Are Pregnant

It’s advisable to set up good sleeping habits to ensure that you have a balanced sleep during pregnancy. Following are some tips to help you get better sleep while you are pregnant:

1. Fix a Bedtime Routine

Prepare yourself before going to bed by avoiding radiations from TV, mobile phones, tablets or other digital devices . Reading, relaxing, and taking short, warm water baths can help you unwind and put you to sleep easily. If you feel wide awake, wake up and distract yourself to ensure you fall asleep at the earliest.

2. Drink Liquids During the Day

Drink water and other liquids to stay hydrated during the day. Limit your liquid intake after 7 pm. This habit prevents the urge to wake up, and avoids frequent urination.

3. Eat a Balanced Meal

Feed yourself a healthy dinner, but ensure to relish it slowly to reduce the chances of heartburn. Have an early dinner and do not sleep hungry. Eat a light snack, if required. Protein-rich food ensures that your blood sugar levels are steady during the night. A warm glass of milk can help you immensely. Avoid greasy, spicy, sugary food, acidic food, and caffeine.

4. Make Your Sleeping Space Comfortable

Ensure that you have everything required to give you comfortable sleep. Use a comfortable sleep bra to ensure that your breast tenderness doesn’t cause discomfort. Keep your room dark, with minimal lighting if required, to ensure that the ambience is perfect for sleeping well. Use a night light in the bathroom, because bright lights can hinder you from getting back to sleep.

5. Exercise, But Relax

Stay active during the day to ensure that you sleep well at night. Also, practice relaxation techniques and meditation to help you get a good night’s sleep.

6. Correct Your Sleeping Posture

Ensure that your sleep posture doesn’t affect your sleep. The best way to sleep during pregnancy is on your side, preferably on the left side. This posture helps in circulation and is safest for the baby.

7. Check on Supplements and Medication

One of the reasons for leg cramps can be low calcium or magnesium levels. Check on iron and vitamin deficiencies in your body, as they are vital nutrients to sustain a strong body for delivery and growth of the baby. Ensure that you consult your doctor and get advice on increasing the dosage of these supplements if required. Use saline nasal sprays and nose strips, as they give quick relief from nasal congestion.

8. Check Your Emotional Levels

Avoid anxiety and stress, because they can severely affect sleep, and make you end up being tired.

Sleeping to your heart’s content throughout pregnancy is challenging. However, planning and prioritising sleep can help you go miles in catching up. Research reveals that women with less sleep during pregnancy are more likely to have C-section deliveries and long hours of labour.

It is advisable for women to get extra rest and sleep, because you must remember that with your baby in you, you are sleeping for two. While you wait anxiously to hold your little one, ensure that you sleep like a baby to make your pregnancy journey a memorable one.

Also Read:

Sleeplessness During Pregnancy
Snoring During Pregnancy

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