New parents are known for their pitiful sleep situations, but the truth is that the loss of sleep usually starts well before the baby’s born. There are so many reasons women don’t sleep well during pregnancy: hormones, discomforts, anxiety…Sleep problems are so common in pregnancy that it’s hard not to wonder if they’re actually happening by evolutionary design. Maybe the interrupted sleep of pregnancy is meant as a prep for the interrupted sleep of parenthood. Though a certain amount of sleep damage is probably inevitable when you’re pregnant (and certainly when you become a mother) there are lots of things you can do to improve your sleep situation.
This morning , the editor of American Baby magazine spoke to CBS news about the phenomenon of sleep deprivation during pregnancy. I’ve combined some of her tips with a few of my own to give you 10 good ideas to help you sleep better tonight, and throughout your pregnancy.
Idea #1: Avoid adrenaline too close to bedtime.
Your body processes things differently when you’re pregnant than when you’re not, and I don’t just mean things you eat or drink. What you watch, read, or even listen to can affect your body or mind in a whole new way in this state. Things that seemed exciting before might take on an anxiety producing tinge now. Or you may just find it more difficult to come down from an adrenaline high. So it’s a good idea to keep clear of adrenaline-inducing things before going to sleep. This might mean no action movies, or it might mean no surfing the internet (lest you find yourself googling your latest symptom and discovering some rare pregnancy complication…)
Idea #2: Make yourself comfortable. It’s an uphill battle, I know—the bigger you get, the harder it is to find a position that works. Pillows can help a lot. A good body pillow can make a huge difference. You may also want to consider adding extra padding to your mattress, especially if yours is a firm model. Hip pain can be alleviated by better cushioning. You can also practice ways of turning over that minimize your chances of triggering round ligament pain so you don’t wake yourself up when this happens in the middle of the night.
Idea #3: Stay hydrated (but not too hydrated). Too much to drink before bedtime can make it even more likely than usual that you’ll have to get up and pee in the middle of the night. But you do need to stave off thirst and possible symptoms of dehydration, like cramping. Having a drink with electrolytes, like coconut water, before bedtime can make these symptoms even less likely.
Idea #4: Eat an early dinner. Eating too close to bedtime can provoke heartburn, a major disruptor of sleep in the second half of pregnancy. If you do end up eating late, try not to lie down too soon after dinner. Remaining upright will give the food a chance to make it down your digestive tract more easily.
Idea #5: Give yourself time to plan (and worry) during the day. There’s a lot to worry about when you’re pregnant. Some of it is stuff you don’t have control over. Some of it is stuff you’re trying to take care of. In any case, your bed is not the most productive place to deal with these concerns. Keeping a To-Do list can be a good way to gain a sense of control and see the scope of your finished and unfinished work. Journaling can be helpful for less concrete worries, or ones that are unlikely to get checked off!
Idea #6: Exercise (but not too late). Exercise has been shown to improve sleep, as long as you give yourself enough time to come down off the endorphin high before bedtime.
Idea #7: Try not to stress out. If there’s anything that guarantees a bad night’s sleep, it’s worrying about getting a bad night’s sleep. If you find yourself awake in the middle of the night, try not to freak out about it. This is easier said than done, of course, but if you can get yourself into a calm state, you’ll be much more likely to get back to sleep. If you do start to panic, try distracting yourself from your worry with counting, visualization, or whatever techniques seem to work for you.
Idea #8: Keep it dark and quiet Because pregnancy hormones affect your sleep cycles, you’re more likely to be roused by light or noise, or have a harder time getting back to sleep after seeing or hearing loud noises. Tools like earplugs and eyeblinds can be lifesavers during pregnancy, even if you’ve never needed them before.
Idea #9 :Try prenatal yoga. There are a number of yoga poses that are specifically helpful for sleep issues. And yoga promotes relaxation in general (this is one kind of exercise that can be great to do in the evenings). Mediation or guided relaxation are other tools that can be similarly effective for getting you into a sleepy state.
Idea #10: Keep your routine consistent. This is something that’s said a lot about babies, but it turns out that everyone benefits from a consistent routine around bedtime. Part of what helps us relax into sleep is feeling emotionally comfortable, and we all feel a bit more comfortable when we know what to expect. Plus, a routine can induce sleep associations that can help you both with initial bedtime sleep and falling back asleep when you wake in the middle of the night. A bath or shower, music, aromatherapy…a routine can include anything you want. It can be as simple as trying to go to sleep the same time every night in the same kind of pajamas. Even if you can’t do it every day, just having a system in mind can take some of the pressure off in the insomnia department. Even if this isn’t something you find totally effective for yourself, it’s yet another thing you can start learning in pregnancy that is good practice for parenthood!
photo: Johnathan Nightingale/flickr