Your newest family member will keep you awake long before she makes her grand entrance. For many pregnant women, catching a good night’s sleep can seem utterly unfeasible. Hormones make you hot, getting comfortable is an Olympic feat and just when you start to snooze, your bladder demands a bathroom break … again.
Some say it’s prep for the many sleepless nights you’ll have with baby, but whatever the reason, it happens to everyone sporting a bump. According to a 2014 study in the journal Sleep Medicine, all expectant women report frequent awakenings, and three out of four moms-to-be say they’re not getting good sleep. Hitting the hay these days may not be easy, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible—just abide by these all-important tenets.
Make sleep a top priority
If bragging about your lack of shut-eye and nursing the coffeepot was your former M.O., now is the time to switch gears. “You need to be able to prioritize and say, ‘Sleep is important to me because it absolutely has an effect on the growth of the fetus and [my] overall well-being,’” says Michael Breus, PhD, a board-certified sleep specialist in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Most people need seven to nine hours of sleep each night. But if having a bun in the oven is making you toss and turn, up your quota to compensate for nighttime disruptions. “Whatever your sleep need was before you got pregnant, I would add an hour to that,” recommends Breus.
Listen to your body. If you feel like the walking dead, try going to bed earlier or taking an afternoon nap. Rearrange your schedule so that sleeping rises to the top of your to-do list, even if that means reassigning some of your typical responsibilities to your partner.
Eat the right foods at the right time
As you know, growing a baby can do a number on your tummy. One minute you’re nauseous, the next you’re dealing with a flaming case of heartburn. Food is medicine, Hippocrates famously pronounced, and he was right. To help reduce heartburn, avoid foods that are spicy, acidic or fried. And aim to finish dinner four hours before going to bed, so your digestive system has plenty of time to do its job before you slip between the sheets.
Avoid eating dessert close to bedtime, too, because it can give your baby a sugar rush. In other words, there will be lots of kicking and moving as you’re trying to doze off, warns Renee Horowitz, MD, an obstetrician in Farmington Hills, Michigan.
If you need a nighttime snack, make a point to pair a protein with a carb. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the combo triggers tryptophan production (the same amino acid found in turkey), which makes you feel drowsy. Think cereal with milk or cheese with crackers. Smearing peanut butter on a banana is another great option.
Those yoga pants aren’t just for lounging. The more you move during the day, the sweeter your slumber can be. “Women who exercise during pregnancy find it easier to sleep at night because they have increased their activity during the day,” explains Helena Grant, RN, BSN, a senior certified nurse midwife at New York University School of Medicine.
If you’re a jogger, keep logging miles as long as your OB gives you the thumbs-up. If you prefer something mellow, give prenatal yoga a go; certain positions can help with sciatic and lower back pain as well as water retention. Swimming supports the weight of your burgeoning belly (sweet relief!) and taking an after-dinner stroll aids digestion. Aim for 30 minutes a day, whether all at once or broken up into smaller chunks. Post-exercise endorphins will leave you feeling relaxed and glowing.
Sip your way to dreamland
Like food, what you drink can make or break your bedtime hours. Say no to caffeine at least six hours before you plan on nodding off, but do indulge in a late-night glass of milk (warm or cold). The calcium aids the brain in making melatonin, the hormone that regulates the sleep/wake cycle.
You can also sip a chamomile-based herbal tea for a mild soothing effect, or enjoy some banana tea, says Breus. The fruit has potassium and magnesium, which relax muscles and combat leg cramps, and the peel has three times as much of these mineral sleep aids. To make the tea, wash the banana, cut off the hard tips (leaving the rest of the peel on), and boil it for 10 minutes.
To combat leg cramps, lay off cola drinks. “Any soda with phosphorus is going to create an imbalance. Women who have a hard time giving up soda are going to have more leg cramps,” says Grant.
Develop an evening ritual
To kick insomnia to the curb, create a routine that lets your body know it’s time to snooze. First, unplug. That means no screens—TV, computer, smartphone—for at least one to two hours before going to bed.
“Light is the most powerful signal to set the body’s clock, which tells us when it’s time to be awake and time to be asleep,” reports Virginia Skiba, MD, of the Henry Ford Sleep Disorders Center in Detroit. “Bright light in the evenings makes it more difficult to fall asleep. The amount from screens can be very stimulating.” Instead, take a warm bath laced with relaxing lavender oil, read a book, talk to your partner, or do some calming stretches. Find what soothes you best.
What if your brain still won’t turn off? (Those new-mom stresses don’t give up without a fight!) Pour your concerns or to-do’s onto paper, and then make a plan to tackle those items during the day. For example, say you’re worried about finding a daycare postpartum. Could you call daycares during your lunch hour? Use vacation time to take a day off before your due date to meet providers and pick one? Grant recommends reviewing your resources to figure out how to solve your biggest concerns.
Get in a good position
If you’re in your first (or even second) trimester, you might not need to think about your sleep position just yet. “Your baby is very well-protected, so you don’t have to worry about harming the baby by sleeping on your stomach if that’s still comfortable,” assures Horowitz. Eventually, though, you physically won’t be able to lie on your tummy.
For face-up sleepers, it’s time to try other positions. It’s best not to rest on your back because, as your uterus grows, it puts pressure on the major vein that’s responsible for bringing blood to your heart from your lower back, which can slow circulation. If you find yourself on your back in the middle of the night, don’t panic, says Horowitz. Just roll over.
The ideal position, especially in the later stages of pregnancy, is to lie on your left side, which allows for optimal blood flow. To keep yourself from flopping onto your back, prop a pillow behind you. You might also need one to go between your legs and another to support your belly. (See, there is a reason why you have so many pillows on your bed—they’re not just there to look good!) You can also invest in a prenatal body pillow to cushion your curves.
“It’s good to sleep on your left side as long as you’re comfortable,” advises Horowitz. “But you don’t have to unless you have hypertension. Just sleep how you’re comfortable.” For some women, the only way they can fall asleep is at an incline. Sleeping in a recliner or with two pillows under your head can relieve heartburn.
When sleep is truly elusive, focus on rest. Spending some downtime relaxing and enjoying the company of the baby in your belly can do a world of good when it comes to replenishing your body and soul.