There’s no getting around the fact that pregnancy is exhausting, and unfortunately, there’s no rest for the weary. Just when increased demands on your body have you craving hours of uninterrupted slumber, biology plays a cruel trick by making sleep elusive. In fact, nearly 8 out of 10 expectant moms experience sleep troubles ranging from snooze-zapping heartburn to restless legs to plain old insomnia—and disrupted sleep is more than an inconvenience. According to a new study by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, poor sleep during pregnancy increases the risk of preterm birth.
The good news: You can up your chances at a good night’s rest by chowing down on foods that promote healthy sleep. Read on to learn how to snack your way to sweeter dreams
Turkey talk: Tryptophan
The link between turkey and sleep isn’t a myth. Turkey (and other poultry) can actually make you drowsy, thanks to its generous dose of tryptophan. “Foods high in tryptophan have been shown to promote sleep,” says Sheridan Stringer, RD, of Women and Infants Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island. This amino acid helps cue the sandman by aiding in the production of neurotransmitters serotonin and melatonin, slumber superheroes that slow the body down and prepare it for rest.
Tryptophan can be tricky to employ though. For starters, its effect varies depending on an individual’s body weight and metabolism, explains Stringer. Plus, simply gobbling turkey isn’t enough— tryptophan works best when it’s paired with complex carbohydrates. Foods like whole grains and fruits stimulate the release of insulin, which helps tryptophan enter the brain and cast its sleepy spell.
HOW MUCH? There is no universal serving recommendation for tryptophan, and each person will be affected differently, notes Stringer. Try starting with a 3-ounce serving of poultry paired with complex carbohydrates at bedtime (Thanksgiving leftovers, anyone?) and go from there.
Find it here: Eggs, milk, nuts and nut butters, yogurt and poultry.
For one-quarter of pregnant women, restless leg syndrome (RLS) cakes sleep scarce. The condition brings on a creepy-crawly sensation in the extremities and a strong urge to move at night. The cause of RLS is unknown, but research links the condition to deficiencies incertain nutrients including potassium, a key mineral involved in regulating the body’s electrolyte balance. “Potassium is important for anyone with leg cramps,” says Jennifer Weddig, PhD, RD, professor of nutrition at Metropolitan State University of Denver, since muscles can cramp up when potassium is low.
HOW MUCH? The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine recommends, 4,700 milligrams (mg) per day during pregnancy.
Find it here: Bananas, baked potatoes with skins intact, avocados, dried apricots, yogurt, and sweet potatoes.
Serene scene: Carbohydrates
Pregnancy isn’t the time to go low-carb. Along with helping fuel your baby’s growth, carbohydrates aid in the production of serotonin, the calming brain chemical known for helping you feel more relaxed at night.
Choose unrefined carbohydrates like whole grains, brown rice and fruits whenever possible; their fiber content will fill you up and stave off late-night stomach rumbles.
HOW MUCH? The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics urges expectant mamas to consume 40 to 50 percent of their calories from carbohydrates (about 210 to 260 grams per day).
Find it here: Whole grains, cereals, brown rice, dairy foods and fruits.
Dynamic duo: Calcium and magnesium
Before drifting off to dreamland, grab a glass of milk. The calcium in the dairy drink is a time-honored sleep-inducer since it helps the brain use tryptophan to make melatonin. And don’t forget calcium’s super sidekick magnesium, which aids calcium absorption, relaxes muscles, and quiets leg cramps. “There’s concern across the board that women, including pregnant women, aren’t getting enough magnesium,” says Liz Weinandy, MPH, RD, LD, at The Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center.
HOW MUCH? Aim for 1,000 mg of calcium and 350 mg of magnesium per day. If your healthcare provider recommends magnesium supplementation, pop the pill at bedtime to take advantage of magne- sium’s relaxing effect.
Find it here: (Calcium) Dairy products, salmon, oatmeal, almonds, spinach and fortified orange juice; (Magnesium) wheat germ, halibut, sunflower seeds and quinoa.