Newborns, teens, retirees, middle-aged—no matter where you’re at in life, you need sleep.
It’s a necessary part of life.
There’s a heap of research and resources about sleep from various perspectives, examining everything from how much sleep you need, the ideal time of night for sleep and sleep’s effects on memory recall.
There are medications that help people sleep—although cognitive behavioral therapy is recommended first—and there are counselors and doctors who specialize in the treatment of sleep disorders.
But what about sleep during pregnancy? When you’re pregnant, sleep can be elusive. (And often even more so after your little one is born!)
Frankly, when you’re pregnant you’re more tired. Sleep can feel like something you need all the time.
I remember in the first part of my pregnancies I would wake up in the morning and my first thought revolved around sleep: “When can I go back to sleep?”
I’d feel exhausted a lot of the time.
Some expectant moms struggle with going to sleep and staying asleep. Having to get up and go to the bathroom doesn’t help either.
The American Pregnancy Association estimates that nearly 80 percent of all pregnant women are affected by habitual sleeplessness at some point.
What might cause this? You name it—abdominal discomfort, back pain, heartburn, frequent urination, anxiety, frequent and vivid dreams and hormonal changes.
It’s suspected that hormonal changes during pregnancy account for much of the change in sleep and dreaming, including the ability to remember dreams more clearly and vividly.
Some dreams can be concerning simply by their content. It may help to document yours. You can keep a journal by your bed and, when you wake up in the middle of the night, journal what your dream was about.
Many moms have very vivid dreams when they’re pregnant.
I remember one mom telling me she dreamed her husband was pregnant and gave birth to a puppy! She said it seemed so real.
If you feel anxious because of your dreams, talk to your OB provider. Many offices now have social workers who are happy to talk to you about your anxiety.
And remember: You are growing a baby inside you.
I like to tell moms there will be times you absolutely need your sleep—and you need to get it, no questions asked.
This might mean getting up as late as possible in the morning, heading off to your day, getting home and taking a nap, then eating dinner, then relaxing a bit and going to bed early.
This is all OK. Make sure you tell your family there will simply be times when you need more sleep.
A 2004 study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that sleep in the last month of pregnancy can influence delivery.
The small study, which surveyed 131 women through questionnaires and sleep logs, found that women who “slept less than six hours at night had longer labors and were 4.5 times more likely to have cesarean deliveries.”
Women with severely disrupted sleep had longer labors and were at least five times as likely to have a C-section. The study ultimately recommended pregnant moms get eight hours of sleep each night.
One question that comes up often: Is there an ideal sleep position? The American Pregnancy Association recommends sleeping on your side.
When you’re pregnant, any sleep position can be difficult to tolerate, especially if you are a tummy sleeper.
I recently saw an advertisement for a sort of mattress that allows you to sleep on your belly when you’re pregnant. I would encourage you to discuss these types of products with your OB provider before rushing out to use them.
One position you should avoid after the 17- to 20-week mark in your pregnancy: sleeping on your back.
The reason? Baby weight puts pressure on your major blood vessels. If you wake up on your back, don’t worry—just roll over on your side. You most likely woke up because your legs were going numb.
Here are a few helpful tips for better sleep during pregnancy:
- Use as many pillows as you need for comfort.
- Sleep when you need to.
- Try to take a relaxing bath before bed.
- Avoid smartphones and other screen time before bed.
- Exercise regularly.
- Cut down on fluids in the evening. This helps cut down on frequent bathroom trips.
- Turn the temperature down. Most pregnant women are warm in pregnancy.