Our internal body clocks control the production of the hormone melatonin and help regulate how much and how often we sleep. But pregnancy can—as you probably know firsthand—throw this cycle off.
“Just about all pregnant women experience waking in the middle of the night, particularly during the third trimester,” says Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, medical advisory board member of the nonprofit Nutritional Magnesium Association. “Hormonal changes can produce frequent urination, heartburn and nasal congestion—all of which may be disruptive to sleep and the circadian rhythm.”
An offbeat sleep cycle can lead to a host of health problems, including an increase in stress hormones, excessive daytime sleepiness and fatigue. Lack of sleep can also contribute to low birth weight, preterm birth and even miscarriage. “Maintaining a normal sleep/wake pattern is vital for a healthy pregnancy,” explains Dean. Follow her recommendations for getting your body clock back on course.
Stay on track
Keep a diary to monitor your sleep. Record when you go to bed, when you wake up, how many hours you slept and how you feel during the day. “As you keep track of your sleep, you’ll discover your natural patterns and get to know your sleep needs,” Dean explains.
To gauge your natural rhythm, you need regular exposure to bright light during the day; light suppresses melatonin, keeping you awake. “To reset the sleep-wake pattern, stand facing the sun for 10-15 minutes to get a healthy dose of sunlight,” advises Dean.
Melatonin is triggered by darkness, so make sure your room is pitch black at night. “Use blackout shades or thick drapes if you need to,” Dean suggests. Avoid exposure to light from TVs, cellphones and alarm clocks, and keep the lights dim or off on your mid-night trip to the toilet.