Why is Prenatal Sleep so Exhausting?

The elusive land of nod - Pregnancy and sleep | Pregnancy & Newborn
By Published On: April 12th, 2022
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Motherhood is notorious for robbing a lady of her beauty rest, and unfortunately, it’s one aspect of parenting that arrives long before the baby. Read on for advice on getting better sleep during pregnancy.

Lousy sleep. It’s one of pregnancy’s most common complaints, and it’s fueled by so many factors. However, you don’t have to throw in the towel and accept deficient dozing!

Besides the obvious benefits of increased energy, elevated mood and enhanced performance in all areas of life, sleeping well helps to balance stress hormones, says Mar De Carlo Oscategui, founder of the International Maternity & Parenting Institute and author of Awakening Through Sleep. Because stress hormones can have a negative effect on baby and on the labor and delivery process, sleeping soundly (or at least, as soundly as possible) is a must. Oscategui says, “When mom is well-rested, she is more physically and mentally prepared for labor, greatly diminishing the risk of any complications.”­­

Are you one of the many mamas-to-be plagued by restless nights? Here are a few reasons why pregnancy sleep may seem so elusive.

Problem No. 1: Too Sick to Sleep

Poorly named “morning sickness” can keep you up at night, too, as your churning gut refuses to settle. Many moms leave this stage behind after the first trimester, but some deal with it all the way into late pregnancy.

Solution: Keep something in your stomach at all times, even at night. Have some crackers with peanut butter—or any other satisfying snack—before you hit the hay, and keep some sustenance by your bedside so that if you wake feeling weak in the gut, you can quickly grab something to munch or drink. Do you find that your prenatal vitamin is aggravating your stomach issues? You may want to try switching to a pill without iron (ask your doctor first) or taking the vitamin at breakfast rather than in the evening. If nausea is still keeping you from getting enough sleep, talk to your health care provider about prescription anti-nausea meds.

Problem No. 2: Frequent Urination

In the first trimester, hormonal changes will have you peeing more often. Later on, a growing uterus will force your bladder into smaller accommodations, inviting frequent evacuations by day and in the middle of the night.

Solution: Nicole Comforto, mom in Seattle, says, “Frequent peeing was my biggest sleep enemy, especially in my third trimester. I tried limiting liquids before bed but still had to get up every few hours.” Comforto had the right idea! Less liquid before bed, along with a last-call trip to the toilet, will certainly help. Still, your bladder is likely to wake you up at least once a night. When you make your midnight pilgrimage, keep the lights off. (A well-placed night-light may come in handy.) Do your business and get right back to bed to avoid waking up more than necessary.

Problem No. 3: Side-Sleeping Discomfort

Many women find sleeping on their left side beneficial,” says Ilene Rosen, MD, MSCE, associate professor of medicine at the hospital of University of Pennsylvania. “This increases blood flow to the baby, uterus and kidneys.” Sleeping on the right side is the second best sleep position, but sleeping flat on your back is trouble, and facedown snoozing is right out.

Solution: There’s a pillow for that! You’ll find a plethora of pregnancy pillows on the market, all designed to make side-sleeping more comfortable no matter what pregnancy week you’re in. A half-moon wedge pillow is perfect for supporting the girth of the belly, dual pillow sleep positioners help prevent you from rolling onto your back during the night, and giant C-shaped or U-shaped body pillows do it all—supporting the head, back, hips and belly. Breast support pillows are available for busty women sleeping on their sides, and you can even find giant pillows with holes in the middle meant to allow a pregnant woman to lie belly-down again, although this is not the best position for promoting circulation.

Problem No. 4: Loud Snoring

Some women find themselves snoring for the first time during pregnancy, a state of affairs that presents trouble sleeping for both mama and her partner.

Solution: To deal with snoring, first identify the factors causing it. Rosen says, “About 30 percent of pregnant women experience snoring due to hormone changes, weight gain and fluid retention, which can lead to swelling in the upper airway.” Simple remedies include sleeping on your side, using nasal strips and running a humidifier.

If your snoring is accompanied by daytime sleepiness, morning headaches, and choking or gasping during sleep, you might have sleep apnea. Talk to your OB-GYN about your symptoms, and ask if she would recommend seeing a sleep specialist for additional medical advice. If you do have sleep apnea, CPAP therapy or a customized mouthguard could be prescribed. The good news? “After the baby is born and mom returns to her prepregnancy body, it is possible that the snoring will disappear,” says Rosen.

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Problem No. 5: Restless Legs Syndrome

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a common but less talked about pregnancy and sleep problem. Keri Hughes, a mom in Draper, Utah, experienced RLS during her second and third pregnancies but didn’t recognize what it was at first. “I just thought it was insomnia,” says Hughes. “Adding iron solved the problem, but I had to get that advice from a friend—my doctor didn’t make the connection either.”

Solution: RLS will manifest itself as an urge to move your legs or as a tingly, uncomfortable sensation in your legs that gets worse at night. Moving your legs will help, but that’s not very practical when you’re lying down, trying to sleep. Try exercising earlier in the day, massaging the legs and instituting relaxation techniques at bedtime. Certain nutritional supplements, painkillers and prescription meds can also help, but get your provider’s OK before use.

Problem No. 6: Aches and Pains

Back and hip pain are common offenders that often grow worse in the evening and can cost you a good night’s sleep.

Solution: Mom Kasey Tross of Chesterfield, Virginia, says, “I didn’t realize how much belly weight was pulling on my spine until I started sleeping with a pillow under my belly and another one behind my back, which helped so much!” An additional pillow between the knees can help to straighten the hips, reducing hip pain and aiding the spine. Applying heat to your back, getting a prenatal massage, and practicing good posture during the day can also help those lower back muscles. If you work on your feet, lower back pain can really give you cause for complaint. Lessen the inevitable end-of-day ache by wearing supportive shoes and taking breaks to sit down when needed.

Problem No. 7: Heartburn

Call it heartburn or acid reflux, it’s the nasty burning sensation in your chest and throat that keeps many soon-to-be mamas up at night. It also can take the enjoyment out of eating or meal—or even drinking a cold glass of water—depending on how bad your heartburn gets.

Solution: Start by looking at your diet. Any foods that are spicy, fried or acidic are more likely to trigger heartburn. Caffeine and carbonation are also common culprits, so put down the soda. Try eating smaller meals to avoid being overly full, and don’t eat too close to bedtime. If you’re still having issues with heartburn at night—despite the dietary changes—try sleeping propped up at an incline to keep the stomach acid down. Chewable antacids (like TUMS) and over-the-counter pills such as Zantac and Pepcid AC are generally considered pregnancy-safe, but check with your midwife or OB just to make sure.

Problem No. 8: Racing Thoughts

You’re facing some major changes in your life—it’s no wonder if excitement or worry keeps you from greeting Mr. Sandman. (Spoiler alert: Racing thoughts about baby will probably stick around after she’s arrived, but you’ll eventually—hopefully!—be able to accept rest when it’s offered.)

Solution: It can be helpful to face your feelings during the day rather than waiting until bedtime to process pent-up emotions. Talk to a friend or your partner about your pregnancy, delivery and parenting worries. Read pregnancy-related books and blogs that help to reassure you about what you’re experiencing. (No fluke delivery horror stories, though, please.) Meet with a therapist if you feel the need.

In addition, try to get out for fresh air during the day. Exercise and time in nature will help you feel more settled when you reach the end of the day. Walk, swim, stretch, practice yoga—whatever helps you to unwind and release your emotions. If you reach bedtime and still find yourself unable to put down the anxieties running through your mind, try keeping a notebook by the bed. Writing down your feelings can be liberating.

Good night, good luck and sweet dreams!

Ginny Butler