Sleep Resources

A Guide to Sleeping While Pregnant

Learn about the most common sleep challenges during pregnancy and how to combat these issues.

By Noelle Chandler

Most parents-to-be are constantly reminded of just how precious their sleep really is. It’s often the first thing out of peoples’ mouths when they find out you’re expecting. “Sleep while you can,” they laugh, with an ominous, knowing look. 

What you might not realize is that sleep can become tricky well before your little one comes along. Sleeping well during pregnancy is a challenge many expectant mothers face due to her rapidly changing body and hormones. In fact, the National Sleep Foundation reported that nearly 80% of women experience more sleep disturbance during pregnancy than any other stage of life. In this guide, we cover the biggest sleep challenges pregnant women are likely to face and what they can do each trimester to get the most rest out of their sleep.

Common Sleep Challenges During Pregnancy

The most common obstacles to getting a good night’s rest during pregnancy are as follows.

  • Frequent Urination: The extra weight pressing down on your organs often increases the urge to go to the bathroom. Pregnant women should cut down on how much they drink in the evening to help.
  • Pain: Pain is one of the most common complaints during pregnancy, especially in the last trimester. The extra baby weight places pressure on the knees and hips making it hard to get comfortable. Leg cramps are also common at night, and may begin as early as the first trimester. Doctors think the cause may be dehydration, lack of important vitamins and minerals, or a combination of both.
  • Heartburn and Constipation: Growing babies also press on the stomach and large intestine. This, combined with the digestive system slowing down to allow food more time for digestion and transfer to the baby, can cause acid reflux and constipation.
  • Increased Heart Rate: During pregnancy, your body needs to supply blood to your baby. This means your heart pumps harder and quicker to ensure that both you and the baby are getting the blood you need.
  • Congestion and Shortness of Breath: There are several things which might make breathing a challenge for pregnant women. As the baby grows in size, it presses on your diaphram, making it difficult to breathe. It’s also common to experience sinus congestion during pregnancy which can restrict breathing.
  • Vivid Dreams: It’s not uncommon to have more vivid dreams during pregnancy, or for dreams to be stranger than usual. Some of this is likely due to hormones but anxiety can also be a factor.
  • Nausea: Morning sickness can really be a misnomer. While many women experience nausea more strongly in the morning, it can last all day and into the night.

Regardless of the reason, a lack of sleep can cause or worsen numerous health issues, for both you and your baby. In fact, some studies link high blood pressure, preeclampsia, and preterm births to sleep deprivation during pregnancy. 

How Sleep Changes Throughout Pregnancy

You may also notice changes in the type and severity of sleep problems you experience during different pregnancy trimesters.

First Trimester: You can expect to feel extra sleepy during the first trimester due to hormone changes. Starting at about week ten, you’ll probably sleep longer at night, and may need naps during the day. Morning sickness is also more common during the first trimester, though it can also occur throughout the rest of the pregnancy. An increase in heart rate and metabolism can impact body temperature, so you might begin to notice you feel extra hot when you try to sleep, or that you frequently wake up sweating.

Second Trimester: Sleep tends to improve for many women during the second trimester, as nausea and nighttime bathroom breaks often become less frequent. Instead, you may begin to notice contractions or stomach pain. You might also begin to feel baby; many pregnant women report babies become more active at night. Finally, leg cramps and heartburn are more common in the second trimester.

Third Trimester: The third and final trimester is often the most challenging, and sleep is no exception. Studies have found that women report more difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and getting good quality sleep, in the third trimester more than the earlier stages. At this stage, breathing challenges are more common and many women begin snoring. It’s also common to experience greater issues with back and joint pain, in addition to breast tenderness, carpal tunnel, and leg cramps. Finally, you may experience increases in both heartburn and anxiety during the final trimester.

How to Get Better Sleep While Pregnant

The best strategy for getting better sleep during pregnancy will vary depending on the symptoms you’re experiencing. While this list isn’t exhaustive, here are some tips:

  • Sleep position can make a huge difference for many women. Pain, urinary frequency, heartburn, and some breathing difficulties may all be alleviated with the right sleeping position. For more detail, check out the next section.
  • Get into a regular sleep schedule, if you don’t have one already. This is key for anyone seeking better sleep, pregnant or not.
  • Make sure to stay hydrated and keep up on prenatal vitamins. Do try and get most of your fluids in earlier in the day and cut back in the evening to reduce the urge for late-night bathroom trips and keep leg cramps at bay.
  • Another fix for leg cramps – avoid carbonated drinks and get a calcium boost with some added dairy or dark green leafy veggies. If you do end up with cramps, flex your foot by pointing your toes up toward your head.
  • If you need to nap during the day, try to keep them to 20-30 minutes, tops. Don’t nap too late in the evening. Some doctors recommend the period between 2-4pm as the optimal nap time.
  • Get some light exercise. This is another one that’s helpful for anyone, pregnant or not. Unless your doctor advises against it, light exercise such as walking or yoga will boost mood and decrease anxiety. It may also help you fall asleep quicker and get better quality sleep.
  • Turn down the A/C, opt for a lighter blanket, or place a fan in the bedroom. Pregnant women tend to run hot and the body needs to be cool to stay asleep.
  • Eat larger meals earlier in the day and keep dinner light and protein-rich. The extra protein will keep you from waking up hungry during the night and lighter meals prevent acid reflux.

Sleep Position During Pregnancy

As you might expect, your growing “bump” can get in the way of your favorite sleeping position, even early on in pregnancy. Sleeping on your back while pregnant can be tough, as the extra weight may press uncomfortably on your organs. It can also be dangerous if the excess weight presses on the spine—specifically, on an important artery supplying blood to the lower half of the body. Back aches, difficulty breathing, digestive issues, and low blood pressure may also occur or worsen from back sleeping. And if you’re a stomach sleeper, before too long sleeping on your stomach won’t just be uncomfortable; it’ll be near impossible.

Therefore, sleeping on your side is recommended during pregnancy. Specifically, you should sleep on your left side as much as possible. Aside from comfort, there are several benefits of left side sleeping while pregnant, for both you and your baby:

  • Sleeping on your left side keeps the baby’s weight from settling on your liver, which sits on the right side of your abdomen.
  • It improves blood flow to the baby and to your kidneys, and improves overall circulation throughout the body.
  • Sleeping on your side, as opposed to other sleeping positions, can help with breathing difficulties.
  • Finally, it may help with lower back pain.

That said, it’s normal for everyone to shift sleep positions throughout the night. It may help to place pillows in strategic positions. For example, you might try placing one under your abdomen, one between your legs, and one at the small of your back. This can relieve hip pressure when sleeping, help support your body to provide proper alignment of the spine, and may help keep you from rolling around too much.

The Best Mattresses for Pregnancy

A good mattress is key, whether you’re pregnant or not. But you might find that your mattress needs change along with the changes in your body. Here are some factors to consider:

  • Temperature Regulation: Some mattress materials are better than others when it comes to keeping you cool. For example, memory foam tends to absorb heat.
  • Support: Keeping your spine aligned properly can make a huge difference in pain levels. Memory foam performs better here, as it provides great support while also conforming to your unique body shape as it changes.
  • Firmness: Just like Goldilocks, you want to find a mattress that’s just right – not too firm, and not too soft. Generally, a mattress in the Medium or Medium-Firm range is recommended.
  • Noise and Motion: If you’re going to be getting up frequently throughout the night, a mattress that helps isolate motion and keeps from squeaking will (hopefully) help keep your partner from waing with you every time. Memory foam performs well here, too. 

That’s a lot to consider, and there are definitely pros and cons to every mattress type. For example, memory foam may outperform spring mattresses in many ways, but if you wake up hot every night, it doesn’t do much good. Luckily, there are options for that, too. You might consider a hybrid mattress, which is composed of blended layers of memory foam in addition to springs, which may mitigate some of that heat. You might also look into cooling mattress pads, or lightweight bedding materials.

Sleep Accessories for Pregnant Women

In addition to your mattress, you’ll want to find the right bedding accessories to promote cool, restful sleep.

Sheets

While high thread count makes sheets feel soft and luxurious, the tight weave means that they tend to trap more heat. Cotton, bamboo, and percale sheets are known for coolness. There are even some sheets with high-tech wicking technology, keeping moisture away from the body. Made of a synthetic poly fiber, they are also a great choice for those with allergies, as they’re anti-microbial and hypoallergenic.

Body Pillows 

Body pillows are another option for those looking to reduce pain and keeping yourself in a side-sleeping position. While you can use several regular pillows to support yourself, there are many body pillows out there designed specifically for pregnant women. These pillows support you in all the right areas, alleviating pressure and pain. And, there are a lot of options:

  • Size: Pregnancy body pillows range widely in size. Often, one of the biggest factors to consider here is how much room your partner is willing to give up. If you have less room, a small wedge-shaped pillow may be just what you need. If you’ve got the space, you could go for a U-shaped pillow that surrounds the body, helping to keep you in position.
  • Shape: Depending on exactly what you’re looking for, there are a ton of options when it comes to shape. You can find curved pregnancy body pillows to fit under your head and between your knees, or some with a nice little dip to help cushion your growing bump.
  • Material: Again, if temperature is a concern, you’ll want to choose a body pillow designed to keep you cool. Cotton may be best for this; you’ll want to avoid polyester, which traps heat.

Sleep Tips for New Parents

So you’re prepared to get the best possible sleep during pregnancy. But what about afterward? Our Parent’s Sleeping Guide goes over strategy in detail, but here are some tips to get you started:

  • Plan ahead. You’ve got nine months to prepare, and in that time you should have conversations with your partner, and other people in your support circle, to see how much they’re willing to share the load. Having someone available to take care of the baby while you nap can make a huge difference in those first few months.
  • Along the same lines, letting others help shoulder some of the other chores around the house, such as cleaning and cooking, will give you more time to rest and may ease anxiety.
  • Babies don’t even begin to develop a circadian rhythm (the body’s internal clock) until about six weeks of age. Even then, it may take up to six months to get into a regular schedule, or as close to “regular” as you can get with a baby. So try to sleep when they do.
  • Speaking of circadian rhythm, natural light is what tells your body, and baby’s when it’s time to wake up and time to sleep. Make sure to get plenty of natural light. You might consider morning walks, to help your brain “wake up.” This exercise will also help you fall asleep faster and sleep deeper.
  • As tempting as it may be, avoid sharing your bed with baby. Not only is it dangerous – doctors think it may contribute to SIDS – sleeping in a separate bed will improve sleep quality.

While this guide should help address some of the most common problems, and solutions, when it comes to sleep and pregnancy, your doctor is also a great resource. Some women turn to sleeping aids while pregnant. Try to avoid this unless your doctor gives it the thumbs up. If it seems like you’ve tried everything, and you’re still not sleeping, your doctor may also help assess for

sleep disorders. It’s not uncommon for women who have never had a sleep disorder to develop one during pregnancy. It may go away afterward, or stick around. A sleep disorder may also develop after you baby’s birth. Don’t be afraid to bring up your concerns. They say it takes a village to raise a child. It may also take a village to prepare for one – especially when it comes to sleep.


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