Sleep During Pregnancy
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If you’re a soon-to-be parent, you’re probably well aware that, once you bring your baby home, you’ll be in for some sleepless nights. But pregnancy can also mess with your sleep schedule.
It’s important to understand the link between pregnancy and sleep, because getting enough rest is important for your health and your baby’s development. In fact, sleep deprivation in pregnancy has been linked to adverse pregnancy outcomes.
Working with your doctor to get the best possible sleep during pregnancy should be your first line of defense. But there are things you can do at home to give yourself a better chance of getting a solid snooze.
How Much Sleep Does a Pregnant Person Need?
The science is still out on exactly how much sleep a pregnant person needs. Experts recommend that healthy adults get 7 to 9 hours a night, though, so that is a good starting point.
You might find that you need different amounts of sleep during the different stages of your pregnancy. You’ll experience hormonal fluctuations throughout pregnancy—not to mention frequent trips to the bathroom—that can lead to insomnia. So even if you’re spending more time in bed than usual, you could still be sleeping around the same amount of hours.
It’s important to get enough sleep, but routinely sleeping too much (more than 9 hours at a time) can also negatively affect your pregnancy. Be sure to talk to your doctor if you’re having a hard time falling asleep or waking up.
Sleep Problems During Pregnancy
Sleep problems are common during pregnancy. In fact, one Polish study on pregnant women found that 77 percent of participants had difficulty sleeping at some point during their pregnancies. There are many issues that could be at play.
Sleep apnea is a condition in which a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. Women may develop this condition during pregancy due to changes in their nasal passages or pregnancy-related weight gain.
Struggling to catch your breath while you’re off in dreamland doesn’t lead to getting the high-quality sleep you need to function the next day. Daytime fatigue, high blood pressure, and even an increased risk of preeclampsia are all linked to sleep apnea in pregnant people.
If you think you might have sleep apnea, it’s important to talk to your doctor right away. Sleep apnea can be treated with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which delivers controlled amounts of air through a mask while you sleep.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a more severe and chronic cousin of acid reflux, can cause heartburn and indigestion. It’s common in pregnancy because of ever-changing hormones and shifts in the shape of your body. In fact, more than half of pregnant people report feeling severe heartburn—especially during the last trimester.
Changing hormones not only affect how your body digests and tolerates certain foods, but they also significantly slow down the entire digestive process. As your baby grows, your uterus gets bigger and pushes on your stomach, which can force food and acid upward into your esophagus. That’s why most people find that heartburn is at its worst during the final months of pregnancy.
If heartburn is keeping you up at night, talk to your doctor about possible treatments that might offer relief.
Restless Legs Syndrome
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a condition that causes an irresistible urge to move your legs. The sensation—which can feel like throbbing, crawling, aching, itching, or tingling—is often worse when you’re lying down. This can make it extremely difficult to fall asleep.
While there’s no known cause of RLS, it does appear to be genetic. Some research suggests that the low iron and high estrogen that many pregnant people experience might play a role in RLS. Usually, the need to move your legs will dissipate after pregnancy, but some people find that it persists postpartum.
Talk to your doctor if you think you might have RLS. There are some treatments—like iron supplements, folic acid, and certain types of medication—that can help lessen the symptoms and make it easier to sleep.
Best Sleep Positions for Pregnancy
During pregnancy, your sleep position can make a big difference in the quality of your rest. Here are a few sleeping positions that are safe and comfortable for most pregnant people:
- SOS: Also called “sleep on side,” SOS is the best sleep position for pregnant people because it allows for the best circulation and puts the least amount of pressure on your internal organs. Your baby will get the most blood and nutrients, and you’ll enjoy reduced swelling and varicose veins.
- Use a pillow: If your back is aching, place a pillow under your abdomen to support your spine and allow your muscles to relax. If your legs are bothering you, put a pillow between your knees to take some of the strain off your hips.
- Elevate your upper body: Heartburn is no fun, especially when you’re trying to sleep. Placing pillows under your head or shoulders can help alleviate the symptoms by keeping stomach acid where it belongs…in your stomach.
Avoid sleeping on your back as your pregnancy progresses. Experts say that falling asleep in this position is linked to adverse pregnancy outcomes.
Ways to Improve Sleep While Pregnant
There are a few things you can do to make it easier to get the rest you need during pregnancy:
- Limit your caffeine intake.
- Stay hydrated, but avoid drinking a few hours before bedtime.
- Get at least 30 minutes of movement every day.
- Create a relaxing bedtime routine.
- Keep a cool, comfortable environment in your bedroom.
Sleep can be elusive during pregnancy, but there are things you can do to make it easier to get some much needed rest. From changing your sleep position to understanding the underlying causes of pregnancy-related sleep issues, a little knowledge can go a long way in helping you get the rest you need.
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What Is Sleep Apnea? (2022). https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/sleep-apnea
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