Sleep During Pregnancy: The Ultimate Guide (plus Infographic)
Are you concerned with your sleep during pregnancy?
In this ultimate guide, we’ll cover all the essential questions and concerns you may have when you’re pregnant.
Like what, you ask?
Things like the importance of sleep, how many hours of sleep you should get, sleep tips, the safest positions to sleep, and much more.
We also designed a helpful infographic that condenses all these information for your easy viewing too! (be sure to share it!)
Below the infographic, we’ll touch more in details, indicating any in-depth research and studies.
So, read on!
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The Importance of Sleep during Pregnancy
For many would-be mums, pregnancy brings about excitement and anticipation.
However, for some, it can create sleep problems. In a poll done by National Sleep Foundation's 1998 Women and Sleep, 78% of women who participated reported they experienced more disturbed sleep during pregnancy than any other times.
Now, all of us know that sleep is vital, but it is even more important while you’re pregnant.
Here are 3 points as to why you need adequate sleep:
1. Sleeping for 2
In case you haven’t already noticed, you’re living for two right now.
The body requires a lot of energy to grow a baby and carry it in your belly, which can take a toll on you over time. This is shown by your heart rate substantially increasing. To accommodate this increased need for energy, you will need to rest and sleep more.
This explains why you’re always tired and sleeping so much.
2. Lesser Complications
Researchers from University of Pittsburgh Medical Center have found that there are links between sleep quality/quantity and birth complications. The better the quality/quantity, the lower the chances of birth complications arising.
Therefore we’re sure you wouldn’t want to risk anything adverse happening in the later stage of the pregnancy by forgoing quality sleep, right?
3. Faster Delivery
Have you heard of horrifying stories of intense pain during childbirth or had experienced it yourself?
Don’t you want that labor time to pass by as quickly as possible?
Well, the University of California San Francisco has found out that quality sleep plays a part in faster deliveries.
The study of 131 women showed that women who slept less than 6 hours per night had an average labor time of 29 hours. In comparison, women who slept for 7 hours or more had an average labor time of only 17.7 hours.
That’s almost 12 hours of lesser pain!
Think about that when you’re trying to sacrifice sleep or not proactively seeking for quality sleep during any stage of pregnancy.
How Many Hours does a Pregnant Woman Need?
Ah, the golden question that many of you ask.
Typically, adults need 7-9 hours of sleep. But, pregnant mothers have different needs.
The optimal number of sleep hours a pregnant mum should get varies as there are a lot of factors to consider. Even with different research studies done, there isn’t a straightforward answer on the exact amount.
However, pregnant women should sleep longer than regular adults and take occasional naps during the day.
Don’t forget that while you may need, say, 9 hours of sleep, you would probably need to buffer more time to get into bed and fall asleep.
So to avoid undesirable events like birth complications, it’s recommended for you to aim for around 9 hours of sleep.
Is it time to binge on sleeping, then?
Well, in the research mentioned above, a higher percentage of mothers who slept more than 10 hours experienced detrimental health effects like a high systolic blood pressure.
As the saying goes, too little or too much of a good thing is bad.
Aim for 9 hours of sleep daily.
What Causes Sleepless Nights during Pregnancy?
There can be a number of factors that affect your sleep during pregnancy. It can be that you’re feeling uncomfortable in your sleeping position, having insomnia, etc. All these create obstacles to have a good night’s rest.
These causes could change depending on which trimester you’re in.
Here are some causes of sleep difficulties:
First Trimester: Month 1-3
By far, most pregnant women would say that this period would be the most dreadful one. With overwhelming excitement and the rollercoaster ride of emotions, it is easy to get tired and emotionally distressed.
Tiredness and Fatigue
One of the reasons why pregnant women feel drowsier during the 1st trimester is due to the increase in progesterone, a hormone that provides maintenance. Higher levels of progesterone are known to cause fatigue.
So if you’re in this phase, do expect to have a longer sleep time but lower quality of sleep due to increased awakenings during the night.
Discomforts around the Body
As your body starts to change to accommodate a growing fetus, there will be bodily discomforts. A common complaint is that the breasts become tender and thereby more uncomfortable with touch, especially when laying on the bed if you’re a side sleeper.
Frequent Bathroom Runs
In addition to the increased progesterone making you drowsy, it also pushes you to make frequent trips to the bathroom to urinate. Because of this pesky problem, women on average take more than one toilet trip during the night, which kills precious time that could’ve spent in dreamland.
Although many have termed it the ‘morning sickness,' nausea can happen anytime during the day. Usually with little warning. The worse time this can happen is during your sleep. Imagine waking up in middle of the night feeling all groggy and nauseating. That’s 2 hard punches in 1.
Second Trimester: Month 4-6
The pains of the 1st trimester should considerably subside during this period. There is some relief as mothers get used to the changes.
Many pregnant women report having symptoms of heartburn, also known as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) during this period.
What are some of these symptoms?
It feels like burning sensation in your chest, but it’s not related to the heart (thankfully!). We know that this can be nerve-wrecking and uncomfortable. The good news is that it rarely causes further complications. Some women mentioned that the symptoms get worse during the night and that leads to inadequate sleep.
How does this happen? As your uterus enlarges, your diaphragm gets restricted and leads to shallow breaths. Also, the esophageal sphincter and intestines can be displaced which causes the reflux.
Imagine having horrible dreams where everything is surreal. You can see, hear, feel the details of what’s happening in your dreams. And the worse is, these images can be horrifying. In a study, Dr. Lee says that 72% of women experienced frightening nightmares or dreams. Some feedbacks from women include crazy and weird dreams, and some can wake up feeling scared and sweating.
Because of the changes in your hormones, you may develop pregnancy rhinitis which feels similar to having a cold. This happens because a higher estrogen level causes the lining of the nasal pathways to swell up and thus, produce more mucus. Also, the blood vessels in the nasal path may swell and lead to congestion.
It is said that up to 30% experienced such nasal problems during pregnancy. So, if you’re experiencing this, you’re not walking alone.
Of course, with this congestion, it gets really hard to breathe through the nose while sleeping. Most give up and turn to breathing through the mouth, which may not be the better solution either.
Third Trimester: Month 7-9
At last, we’re on our final lap! So it started with the 1st trimester being a hill climb, then some relief in the 2nd. In the last trimester, the going gets tougher again. Be prepared for the final push with sleep challenged nights and constant barrages.
Strains, and more Strains
Pain… Hips, Shoulders, Back, Pelvis. When does it ever stop?
You shouldn’t be alarmed when you’re experiencing more discomforts as the fetus gets bigger.
In a study done by Yale University School of Medicine, out of 950 participants, 645 pregnant women reported back pain, and a large number claimed that it caused sleep problems in their daily life.
In preparation for the delivery, your body starts to adjust even more. For example, the ligaments between your pelvic bones and joints loosen.
The heavier weight of the baby means that your posture will be affected as well, creating discomforts when you’re sitting, walking, and sleeping (yes, it’s hard being a mum).
With the increase in the girth of the abdominal, the uterus pressing on the diaphragm, and nasal congestion, many pregnant mums start to snore.
The increase in swelling of the nasal passages blocks airways. If it’s severe, it can lead to complications like sleep apnea, high blood pressure, etc.
Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)
RLS is the urge to move your legs whenever there are tingling or burning sensations.
This makes it harder to sleep at night. And even though you move your legs to ease that sensation, it can still come back. Although the most annoying outcome of RLS is causing disturbances in sleep, RLS can happen anytime during the day when your legs are stationary.
In a study done, 36% of pregnant women experienced RLS in their third trimester. So you’ll definitely want to know how to deal with it.
Some things you can do are:
- Check with a health practitioner for iron-deficiency
- Have a warm bath
- Do some stretching like yoga
If all else fails, know that RLS is most likely temporary. It should disappear when you deliver or sometimes, within a month after.
12 Powerful Sleep Tips for Pregnant Mothers - The Dos and Dont's
1. Relaxation exercises to eliminate anxiety
With all the emotional and mental stress from being pregnant, getting to the point of peace and calmness can be difficult. But don’t fret. There are simple breathing and relaxation techniques that can be used instantly. A favorite is meditation. There are different ways to meditate, but you can start with an easy one:
- Breath in through your diaphragm
- See in your mind’s eye the motion of air from your nostrils down to your diaphragm
- Hold for a short while
- Then breath out and see the motion reverse
- Whenever you have any thoughts or feelings, just gently steer them back to the breathing motion
Sure, it may be tough at the beginning, but meditating can be life-changing, not just during this period of pregnancy. If you’re having difficulties in staying focused while meditating, you can start with a short 2 minutes and progress upwards.
2. Light exercises to keep your body active
It doesn’t mean that once you’re pregnant, you can use it as an excuse not to exercise. Exercise is still vital for a healthy body. Of course, limit your activities to light ones. Exercising will improve your health and blood circulation. But try not to exercise later during the day as the adrenaline rush can keep you awake later than usual.
3. Regular naps can reduce fatigue
Fatigue is common. More than often, you might get enough sleep at night due to many reasons. So, do take naps during the day to ‘make up’ for it. But try not to nap nearer your bedtime because you may sleep later than usual, and it will disrupt your sleep cycle.
4. Take a light snack before bed to reduce nausea
Nausea is extremely common, and one solution is to keep your stomach from being empty. To avoid that horrible feeling of morning sickness, you can take a light snack before going to bed.
Examples of snacks you can try are:
Don’t overeat though!
5. Get massages to soothe your senses
What can beat the physical and mental serenity you get from massages?
This kills two birds with one stone and is perfect to get you sleeping soundly shortly after. Show this to your partner (be nice about it) and politely ask him to get his hands ready for some action!
6. Make your bedroom a sleep haven
Design your bedroom in a way that is conducive to sleep. Put away all the electronic devices or put them in airplane mode at least 1 hour before sleep time. Dim the lights to indicate your body that it’s time for sleep. Lower the temperature of the room. Make sure your bed is all comfy and fluffy, or whichever way suits you.
7. Routines to ease into a calming sleep
To prime yourself for great sleep, you need to be in the ‘mood.'
Have you done any work on the computer then go to sleep straight after? Was it easy to sleep? Most probably not when your mind is still active.
There should be a bridge in between work and sleep. Introducing night routines. They trigger your body and mind to start ‘shutting down’ for proper rest. At the start, it may take some willpower, but if you’re consistently executing the routine night after night, it becomes a habit.
Here are some things you can do:
- Drink a non-caffeinated tea
- Sit in a quiet place and reflect
- Read a pleasant book
- Journal down your day
8. Be hydrated with life’s water
As the saying goes, water is the essence of life. This won’t differ for pregnant mothers. Drink lots of water to be hydrated. But try to cut down your intake closer to bedtime. This will reduce the chances of getting up during the night to visit the bathroom, causing disrupted sleep.
9. Get help from a doctor if your insomnia persists
Check with your doctor if your sleep problems continue. They are the best people to consult as many factors can be involved.
10. Stay away from certain foods
One of the most important areas you should pay close attention are the things you eat. Think not just for yourself but your baby as well.
You should try to reduce the intake of caffeinated drinks like coffee and tea or at least limit drinking them before 2 pm. Doing this will let the effects of caffeine die down closer to the day’s end.
Stay away from heavy and spicy food before bedtime as well. Large amounts of spicy food intake can lead to heartburn which is uncomfortable and will kill your chances of getting a beauty night’s sleep.
11. Avoid critical thinking at night
Work-related or worrisome thoughts will cause you to stay awake later than usual. One thought leads to ten others; one worry leads to the whole world crashing on you.
So whenever you experience heavy thoughts, either journal them down or leave it to the next day to settle. Prioritize your sleep over anything else. There’s no point risking your health (and your baby’s health) over a matter that can be done the next day.
12. Say no to sleeping pills
It’s understandable that during this period, you’re pulling your hair out trying to sleep.
But please note that although taking a sleeping pill can provide a quick fix, the longer term effects on yourself and your baby are negative at the very least. It's not recommended.
Taking pills can create over-reliance it, which then becomes a habit.
So, tell yourself not to use an unnatural sleeping aid no matter what. You just need to focus on the natural remedies like the sleep tips above. If you can incorporate them into your daily life, you’ll be sleeping in no time.
Best and Safest Sleeping Positions while Pregnant?
This question comes up very frequently.
Many of you are asking which sleeping positions are safe and recommended while you’re pregnant. So it’s a going to be addressed here. We’re going to touch on this topic from trimester to trimester so you’ll know whether your current sleeping position should be continued or not.
There are mainly four types of positions: Back sleeping, sleeping on the stomach, sleeping on the sides - left and right.
In the beginning, you can choose to stick with sleeping positions that you were used to as the baby bump would not show until the second trimester and so, this wouldn’t cause much discomfort.
In the early stages of the first trimester, those sleeping on your tummies can still do so. But as the pregnancy progresses, this can cause discomfort and may be harmful to the baby. So if you’re looking for the best ways to sleep now, it may be time to pick up a new position and get used to it for the long haul.
Sleeping on your back wouldn’t cause any severe issues during this period either. But like sleeping on your tummy, you will need to change this position down the road, so try to get accustomed to sleeping on your sides.
The best positions for you are sleeping on the sides, either sleeping on the left or the right. Side sleeping would be superior to sleeping on the front and back, not because of greater comfort, but as conditioning for the next two trimesters to come.
Any position is fine. But sleeping on your sides is encouraged.
There may be a lack of research that shows that it is unsafe to be sleeping on your stomach during the second trimester. However, doing so is increasingly uncomfortable, and you’ll start to switch positions just to get a better night’s sleep anyways.
Sleeping on your back during the second trimester becomes a challenge and should be avoided. When lying on your back, there can be interference with blood flow from the low/mid body to the heart. This is due to the uterus becoming large which then compresses a large vein that runs along the vertebral column.
If you haven’t been sleeping on your sides, this is the time to do so now. If possible, sleep on your left.
Start training to sleep on your sides now.
In the third trimester, sleep positions become extremely important.
Your baby bump will be too big to take up stomach sleeping. So this position is out of the question. If you happen to wake up in the middle of the night somehow sleeping on your stomach, don’t freak out. Just shift to your sides.
Researchers have found out that sleeping on the back in the third trimester can lead to higher chances of stillbirth. So it is crucial that you don’t sleep on your at all.
The best position will be sleeping on your left side.
Research has shown that oxygen levels are optimum when the mother sleeps on the left side. And in that same research, the risk of stillbirth for women who were left side sleepers was only 1.96/1000. Whereas for those who did not sleep on the left, the risk of stillbirth is almost two times higher at 3.93/1000.
Sleep on your left side.
Phew, that was long!
So far, we’ve covered the importance of sleep for pregnant mothers, the causes of bad sleep during the trimesters, useful sleep tips and the best and safest sleep positions during pregnancy.
Hopefully, by now, you have a good idea of what to expect in the coming future and start to implement healthy sleep habits.
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