Have you wondered why, oh why an exhausted baby-grower like yourself can’t catch a wink of sleep past 4 a.m.? Or maybe your whacked-out internal thermostat has hit a thousand degrees, making you feel like a hot mess with no hope of dozing off? Getting a good snooze when you’re pregnant can be a real challenge. Blame it on a rush of hormones, the excitement of adding a little one to your family and the feat of getting comfortable with a melon-sized bump.
But there’s a surprisingly simple solution to your sleepless situation: Move more. People who regularly exercise get a better night’s sleep than those who don’t, reports the National Sleep Foundation. So if logging enough Zs seems impossible these days, try upping your exercise game to get the rest you need.
If you’re worried that working out while expecting might be harmful to your baby on the way, don’t be. “People used to be afraid that exercise takes away from the baby. But it doesn’t, as long as it’s within the moderate level,” says Catherine Cram, MS, co-author of Exercising Through Your Pregnancy and exercise physiologist in Verona, Wisconsin. “Exercising during pregnancy actually makes them stronger and healthier.”
Besides helping you sleep longer and deeper—and boasting perks for baby, too, physical fitness can reduce complaints like backaches, constipation and swelling, which are also prone to keep you up at night. Plus, those postworkout endorphins will boost your daytime energy and mood as well.
Before you lace up your sneakers and head to the gym, though, read up on these important guidelines for breaking a sweat with a baby on board.
Choosing an activity
If you had a workout you enjoyed before getting pregnant, by all means keep it up. For example, if you were a runner, it’s perfectly safe to continue your daily jog.
The caveat: Avoid situations where you risk falling (like horseback riding, downhill skiing and rock climbing), as well as contact sports where a collision is likely to happen (such as soccer, basketball and hockey).
Come the second and third trimesters, you might need to make adjustments to your routine for comfort and safety. For instance, you’ll want to avoid lying on your back as your belly gets bigger. Doing so puts pressure on your vena cava —a large vein in your lower body—and can make you lightheaded.
If you experience any of these symptoms, stop exercising and contact your practitioner. She’ll let you know what’s normal and if it’s safe to continue the activity.
- Vaginal bleeding
- Dizziness or feeling faint
- Increased shortness of breath
- Chest pain • Headache
- Muscle weakness
- Calf pain or swelling
- Uterine contractions
- Decreased fetal movement
- Fluid leaking from the vagina
Keep in mind that you’re more likely to get an injury or lose your balance as your pregnancy progresses. The ligaments that support your joints are loosening (thanks again, hormones!) and, as your belly grows, you become front-heavy, which throws off your center of gravity. Many moms-to-be find that switching to low-impact exercise is a good idea. Try swimming, stationary cycling or rowing. If you’re a yogi, opt for a prenatal class that leads you through modified positions. (Avoid hot yoga because the heat can pose a risk to baby.)
Intensity and duration
When it comes to scoring more Zs and reaping exercise’s additional benefits, maintaining a consistent routine is most important. Choose something you enjoy doing, and you’ll be more likely to stick with it. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends exercising at least 30 minutes on most, if not all, days of the week.
“But every pregnant woman’s fitness level is going to be different,” notes Cram. “Some women can comfortably run through their entire pregnancy, and others aren’t comfortable doing it after the first trimester.” When something is no longer working for you, make the necessary modifications, or switch up your routine.
Cram recommends using the simple “breath test” to make sure you’re in the sweet spot of pushing yourself, but not overdoing it. Here’s how it works: If you can carry on a conversation while working out, it indicates you’re at a moderate level of activity; if you’re out of breath, lower the intensity.
Another tip Cram shares is to skip taking your heart rate. It’s no longer a good measurement because of the cardiovascular changes that happen during pregnancy, like increased blood volume. Plus, your heart rate won’t take into account other pregnancy issues like whether your joints are getting taxed.
When to work out
Exercise whenever you can regularly schedule it in. Do it earlier in the day, before a bazillion other tasks scream for your attention, and it’s less susceptible to getting pushed to the back burner. If that won’t work (morning sickness, anyone?), try another time—even the end of the day.
Contrary to popular belief, new research by the National Sleep Foundation shows that busting a move close to bedtime doesn’t keep most people awake. “Normal sleepers can exercise at any time,” reports Michael Breus, PhD, a board-certified sleep specialist in Scottsdale, Arizona.
At night, consider options that have a rhythmic feeling to them to get you into a soothing, meditative state. For example, swimming is an excellent choice for moms-to-be who feel wound up. “The water simplifies our visual and auditory environment. Just being in, near or on water puts you in a mildly meditative state,” says Wallace J. Nichols, PhD, author of Blue Mind. Walking is another good option, and gentle yoga stretches with deep breathing can slow your heart rate and calm your nervous system before you tuck in.
Whether you regularly worked up a sweat before pregnancy or are a newbie starting a healthy habit now (with your care provider’s approval, of course), you’ll be rewarded the same—with more sweet sleep before your precious bundle arrives.