Being pregnant is an enormous blessing and one that is usually a happy experience. However, it has its own shares of problems as well.
Pregnant women often experience erratic sleeping issues. During the first trimester, you may sleep more frequently or deeply than normal. Also, during the subsequent trimesters, you’ll start having trouble getting good-quality and uninterrupted sleep.
What you should know is that your sleeping issues are normal. As the fetus develops over the months, your hormonal balance changes as well.
Why Pregnant Women Have Trouble Sleeping
There are many reasons why pregnant women find it difficult to sleep and those reasons change as the pregnancy progresses.
Pregnant women, especially in their first trimester, tend to take naps during the day to combat tiredness due to insufficient sleep and rest. As pregnancy progresses and the uterus enlarges, many pregnant women find sleeping more challenging.
“First and foremost is the enlarging uterus making it difficult to find a comfortable sleeping position. If someone is normally a stomach or back sleeper, then sleeping on the side, as recommended, can take some getting used to.” said Dr. David Ghozland (OB/GYN).
“The increase in heart rate, potential for shortness of breath due to the enlarging uterus pressing on the diaphragm, or the constant chronic heartburn or GERD (Gastroesophogeal Reflux Disorder) that occurs are all factors that play into making sleeping more difficult.” explained Dr. Ghozland.
Pregnant women can also experience obstructive sleep apnea, back pain, or restless leg syndrome (common in the third trimester).
Hormonal changes come into play with adjusting a pregnant woman’s sleep cycles and we also can’t forget the multiple trips to the restroom in the middle of the night as a big factor.
In addition, stresses such as the excitement or anxiety of parenthood, or your worries of your baby’s health can also interfere on your quest to have a good night’s rest.
What Sleep Position is Best in Early Pregnancy?
During the first trimester your baby is so tiny that there is no risk of pressure from sleeping yet. At this point, the ability to rest is the most important factor in growing a healthy baby.
“Later on in pregnancy you will want to sleep on your side, however, in the first trimester, the correct position is just the one that allows them the best rest possible. This could be on their side, back, or even stomach.” states Kaleb Scroggin, DC CACCP, Board Certified Pediatric Chiropractor.
What Sleep Position is Best in Later Pregnancy?
“As baby grows larger and heavier, it becomes less comfortable and less safe to sleep on your stomach and back. This is when you should start focusing on side-sleeping to help reduce the amount of blood flow resistance in your body.” Dr. Scroggin stated.
“When a pregnant woman sleeps on her back after the 24th week, the weight of the baby sits on the large vessel called the vena cava. This pressure can decrease blood flow to the placenta. Not having a fully functional placenta can lead to less blood flow, lower oxygenation, and less nutrients to the baby.” explained Dr. Cindy Robbins (OB/GYN).
“The best position for the mom and baby is to sleep on the left side with the legs curled up.” stated Dr. Sashini Seeni, General Practitioner of Medicine at DoctorOnCall. “In turn it will increase the blood flow to your heart and uterus and significantly improve the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the growing baby. Putting a pillow in between the legs helps to reduce the pressure on your back.”
Is There a Correct Side to Sleep On?
“It is always recommended to sleep on your side after 24 weeks gestation to avoid these issues, and either side is fine.”
“Word has traveled that pregnant women need to be sleeping on their left side or they could harm their baby. This concept of sleeping on your left to help baby is just that – a concept. While it is perfectly fine to sleep on your left side while pregnant, it is equally as fine to sleep on your right.” states Dr. Scroggin.
Are There Harmful Sleeping Positions During Pregnancy?
There are a few sleeping positions that should be avoided for pregnant women.” explains Dr. Sashini Seeni. “Sleeping on your back during the second half of pregnancy can lead to backache and poor circulation. This puts pressure on your vena cava (a major vein) and disrupts the blood flow, making you feel dizzy.”
“Stomach sleeping can be done until 18 weeks of gestation and by the time your growing uterus will make this position uncomfortable. Not to worry if you ever wake up and find yourself on your stomach as the uterus and amniotic fluid are designed to protect the baby.” Dr Seeni explains.
“A warning sign that you are sleeping on your back too late in pregnancy are ankle swelling and/or numbness and tingling in your feet or legs.” Dr. Scroggin states. “This indicates that baby is putting too much pressure on your blood vessels and is definitely time to stick to your sides.”
How Can I Stay Sleeping On My Side?
Many women rely on pillows or sleep wedges to stay on either side or maintain comfort while sleeping. However, keeping yourself up at night worrying about how your sleeping is not a good idea either.
“It is natural to move and change positions while sleeping and not to feel anxious if you realize that you have been sleeping on your back. Besides, as the uterus enlarges, it will become too uncomfortable to sleep on your back. ” explained Dr. Ghozland
The best item to help with the stress of worrying about sleeping on your side is the SOS (sleep on side) Sleep Assistance Pillow from Belly Bandit. It is a very firm wedge while still being comfortable. There is uterus support in the front to cradle the growing belly, as well. This is all part of a velcro system that can move as the pregnancy progresses.
Tips for Getting a Restful Sleep During Pregnancy
Don’t fret. There are several ways of getting a good snooze, even with a heavy, growing belly. Let’s check out these tips:
1. Choose the right mattress
Whatever your sleeping position is, you should find the most comfortable mattress for you.
Now, the right mattress is a subjective one because you have your own preferences and needs. Check your favorite mattress brands’ websites; many have their mattress selection guides that allow you to choose the right one for you. Or if you’re visiting a brick-and-mortar furniture store, you can ask the representatives for advice on what mattress is perfect for you.
2. Look for the right comfort level
The ideal comfort level of your mattress depends on your sleeping position or if you have a body condition. Your doctor should give you a clear idea on what kind of bed you need.
For example, if he determines that you need to keep your spine straight, then a medium-firm to firm bed may be ideal. If you sleep on your side, he may suggest a softer bed to relieve the pressure off your shoulders, hips, elbows, and other sensitive parts of your body.
Adding a memory foam topper to a standard mattress will work to relieve pressure points on the hip and shoulder, allowing for a longer interval of time before maternal position needs to be shifted.
3. Find a good sleeping position
Doctors recommend that during the early stages of your pregnancy, get into the habit of sleeping on your side. Through research, they determine that lying on your side in a fetal position is most probably the most comfortable sleeping position. The side-sleeping position is also heart-friendly because it prevents your baby’s increasing weight from putting pressure on your inferior vena cava, a primary vein that carries the blood from your lower limbs back to your heart.
Several doctors also recommend that you lie on your left side. That’s because your liver is positioned at the right side of your abdomen. When you sleep on your left side, you help keep your uterus from pressing on your liver. In addition, sleeping on your left side allows blood to circulate freely to your uterus, kidneys, and your baby.
If you sleep on your back, you may feel uncomfortable as the weight of the baby presses on your spine. You may want to support yourself with a thick pillow so that you’ll always sleep on your side.
4. Don’t depend on over-the-counter sleep aids
It may be tempting to take some sleeping pills and herbal remedies to help you sleep. However, if you’re expecting a child, these medications may not be good for you or your baby. If you feel you need to take sleep aids, ask your doctor beforehand before heading to the pharmacy.
5. Avoid caffeine
Caffeine is a stimulant. While it helps keep you alert (admit it, there’s nothing better than to start your day with a hot cup of coffee), it also prevents you from falling asleep by kicking your brain in overdrive. Thus, while you’re pregnant, cut down your intake of soda, coffee, or tea. Instead, drink water or fresh fruit juice. If you’re not lactose intolerant, you can try out an age-proven, pleasant drink: warm milk with some honey.
Don’t drink too much fluids a few hours before going to bed though. Feeling full or waking up frequently to pee will definitely make your sleep a lot less restful.
6. Avoid vigorous exercise
Prescribed exercise programs for pregnant women are awesome. However, don’t exercise within an hour or two before going to bed. Your body temperature remains up, and your adrenaline is still kicking in, so sleeping right away is quite difficult. Do your exercises in the morning or in the afternoon.
7. Take a warm bath
A nice warm shower or bath before going to bed does wonders. It doesn’t just clean off the sweat, dust, and grime from your body. It also lowers your body temperature and allows you to fall into a cool, refreshing sleep.
8. Sleep in a pitch black room
Melatonin is a natural hormone that makes you feel sleepy. But the release of melatonin only happens in darkness. Natural or artificial light shining through your windows inhibit the production and release of melatonin. Same goes with desk lamps, night lights, or even the light from your cellphone’s screen.
Thus, make sure you sleep in complete darkness. Turn off all the lights in your room. If outside light is a problem, install good-quality blackout curtains or close the blinds in your room. The darker your bedroom is, the better and faster you’ll fall asleep.
9. Do something else if you can’t sleep
There may be nights that, no matter what you do, you would have difficulty falling asleep. On nights like these, you don’t need to be twisting, turning, and counting the remaining hours in your bed. Get up, read a book, or work on a hobby that you enjoy. Gradually, you’ll feel sleepy.
10. See a prenatal chiropractor
Kaleb Scroggin, DC CACCP, Board Certified Pediatric Chiropractor states: “One common complaint we receive from our pregnant patients is that they have trouble sleeping, most commonly that their hips hurt when they sleep on their side.
Many pregnant women sleep on their back, either propped up on pillows or in a recliner in order to be able to sleep at all. This can lead to a lot of discomfort and lack of sleep.
A board certified prenatal chiropractor can analyze and correct any pelvic misalignments so that you are able to sleep on your side without pain.
11. Maintain a sleep cycle that is as close to your previous sleep cycle as possible
Your body has gotten used to this cycle – even if it might feel strange at times – so try to stay with it. Go to bed when you used to and wake up when you used to and you should get back into a normal cycle when your body settles.
12. Use pillows or purchase a pregnancy pillow
Whether it’s a regular pillow or a pregnancy pillow, they can make a big difference in helping you get comfortable in bed. Find the perfect position and stick with it. My favorite position is to lay on my side with my knees bent and a pillow between my legs.
13. Eliminate late-night eating and drinking
This might be the toughest tip for many people to put into effect but it can help in a big way. “If you can cut out any late-night snacking (especially things that are heavy like chips, candy, and more) and avoid excessive amounts of liquid, it should make a big difference in how you sleep.” states Dr. Pietro Luca Ratti, MD, Ph.D., Neurologist and sleep health expert for WhatAsleep.
14. Elevate the head of the bed
If the mom-to-be suffers from acid reflux, elevating the head of the bed on blocks or a wedge under the mattress can help. This allows gravity to ease the tendency for upward stomach acid reflux.
In all, pregnancy is an amazing experience. The blues come with the package. With these tips, you’ll be snoozing happily, knowing your little one will be coming out to greet the world soon. Congratulations on your upcoming child!
About the Author
Brett is a writer at ID-Mag. An enthusiast and expert when it comes to sleep products, Brett dedicates a lot of his time reading, researching, and reviewing about both traditional and emerging sleep brands that manufacture varied types of sleep products – from eco-mattresses, smart pillows to cooling sleep systems, Brett has probably reviewed them all. Brett also finds sleep especially important since he juggles a small business which he runs from home, makes sure he spends time with his daughter and he also writes during his spare time – you can definitely see that he needs a great forty winks all night, every night so he’ll make sure that you get great sleep, too!