Home Mental Health & Well-Being Pregnant and Struggling to Sleep? Sleep Expert Shares Tips for Mums-To-Be

Pregnant and Struggling to Sleep? Sleep Expert Shares Tips for Mums-To-Be

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Many women experience fatigue long before they have a visible bump. Most adults need 7–9 hours of sleep, but surveys suggest that pregnant women need at least an extra hour.

It’s normal to feel tired, even when you’re getting more sleep than usual. High hormone progesterone levels in the first trimester can increase sleepiness and need. 

By the third trimester, the unborn infant grows fast and heavy, requiring energy. Almost all women report broken sleep due to pain and discomfort, movement, cramps or needing the toilet during the night.

Sleep disorders also become more common, such as restless legs syndrome, breathing-related problems such as snoring and sleep apnoea, and insomnia. 

What can I do to improve my sleep?

The general advice below is relevant to all mothers-to-be. If you’re worried about lack of sleep or developing a sleep disorder, don’t hesitate to ask your healthcare team for advice. 

Protect time for sleep

Your biological sleep need has increased, so you must change your routine to make more time for sleep. This might mean asking friends or family to help you catch up on sleep safely. If you’re looking after young children, try and nap when they nap.

A brief 20-minute power nap can help lift your mood and energy levels and is unlikely to leave you groggy afterwards. 

Heartburn, or reflux, is more common during pregnancy

Progesterone can relax the muscle that usually keeps food in the stomach, so acidic foods return to the throat. If heartburn is interfering with your sleep.

  • Avoid citrus fruits and juices, rich or fatty foods and spicy dishes.
  • Eat small, regular meals to reduce the stomach content at any one time.
  • It may help to sleep propped up on an extra pillow.

Be active

Staying physically active is good for sleep and can help reduce leg cramps. Doctors recommend keeping a normal exercise routine for as long as you feel comfortable. If you didn’t exercise a lot before pregnancy, take it gently. 

Aim to be able to hold a conversation while you’re exercising without becoming breathless. Regularly stretching out your calves during the day and before bed may help prevent problems at night if you suffer from leg cramps.

Nocturia

Most women must pee more often during pregnancy and may wake up multiple times at night. 

  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated during the day, but cut back two hours before bedtime to reduce overnight bathroom trips.
  • Avoid diuretics like tea and coffee, which make you lose more water.
  • When you go, lean forwards on the toilet to help empty your bladder each time.

Vivid dreams

Pregnancy can be associated with unusually vivid or bizarre dreams. This might be because more frequent waking makes it more likely that you will remember your dreams, but you may also have more things to worry about than usual. 

Reserve the last hour before you get into bed to relax – listen to music, have a bath or shower, read a book or do some crafts to take your mind away from worries. 

Restless Legs Syndrome

It is defined by a strong urge to move the legs at night, accompanied by an itchy, creepy, crawly, jittery or burning sensation. Up to 30% of pregnant women experience symptoms of RLS, especially in the third trimester.

Women with low iron or folate levels can be at greater risk. RLS makes getting to sleep more difficult and has been linked to depression. Fortunately, symptoms in pregnancy typically disappear after delivery.

Snoring

Weight gain, fluid retention and a change in the position of the diaphragm increase the risk of snoring during pregnancy. This is a temporary issue for most women with no serious consequences (though your partner may decide to sleep next door).

If you notice that you pause or struggle for breath during the night, this may suggest obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), and it’s worth asking your doctor for advice.

What can I do to help my sleep during the heat?

Can you keep air circulating at night?

Studies have found that even if you don’t have air conditioning, simply keeping air moving using a fan can help keep you cool and improve sleep quality, even in the heat.

Can you keep your bedroom cool during the day?

The heat will build up if the hot sun shines through the windows during the day. Use blackout blinds to keep the sunshine out during the day and your bedroom dark at night.

Could you switch to a cooler bedroom?

The sun sets in the west, so rooms with easterly-facing windows will likely be cooler in the evening. Warm air rises, so a ground-floor room is likely cooler than an attic.

Could a separate bed cover help?

Experiment with a lower tog summer duvet, a duvet cover alone, or a sheet if you’re getting too hot at night. Many couples find that having one single cover each (rather than sharing a double) is helpful for sleep during the summer so that they share less body heat.

Could warming gently help you cool down before bed?

Though it sounds counterintuitive, a warm bath, shower or foot bath 1–2 hours before bed can help prepare the body for sleep. The warm water against the skin helps the blood vessels widen to increase blood flow to the extremities, cooling core body temperature. The bath wants to be warm – not hot enough to cause sweating.

Can you use cooling-friendly bedding and pyjamas?

Natural fabrics like cotton and silk are likely to wick moisture away from the skin more effectively than synthetic materials. Some mattresses are specially designed to improve their temperature-regulating properties.

Research has shown that using a specially designed cooling pillow can decrease the body’s sweat rate under humid conditions, which we’re prone to when sleeping in the heat.

Is a cool drink within reach?

Staying well hydrated during the day will help your body to regulate temperature more effectively. Fill a thermos with cool water and leave it by your bed for a refreshing drink during the night.

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