“I feel good, I’m just tired.” I uttered these familiar words (well, once I got past the morning sickness) many times during my pregnancies. Without a doubt, pregnancy often makes women feel tired. The body works around the clock to help your baby grow and also produces hormones that can bring on fatigue. A good night’s sleep is essential and helps you feel rested, energized, and prepared for your little one’s arrival.
It sounds simple, but sleeping during pregnancy—particularly in the last few months—can be challenging. Sleep deprivation can frustrate you and make it difficult to survive the next day’s work or caring for older children. And let’s face it, in our society, most of us don’t get (or take advantage of) the opportunity to rest during the day, so we will most likely not recoup our energy until the evening. This makes nighttime sleep that much more important. And despite being exhausted, many women still have troubles getting to sleep.
Finding a Comfortable Position
The end of the day nears and you change into your pajamas, eager to fall asleep. You line up extra pillows and battle with them before settling into a comfortable position. As your pregnancy progresses, your belly grows and your pelvis spreads to accommodate your baby. Your belly gets in the way, your hips hurt, and your back is sore regardless of your position. And if you were previously a stomach or back sleeper, you now must transition to side sleeping, which can be difficult.
Your changing body must be supported properly so you feel comfortable and avoid tossing and turning all night. This can be achieved by lying on your left side with a pillow between your knees and another placed under your belly. You can also tuck a pillow behind your back to help you stay on your side and take some pressure off your hip. Although the left side is preferred as it optimizes blood flow to you and your baby, you may alternate with laying on your right side. Some women find maternity sleep pillows more comfortable, less cumbersome, and less likely to end up on the floor in the middle of the night.
Pregnant women who suffer with heartburn may be more comfortable sleeping in a semi-upright position in bed or a recliner chair. You can prop yourself up in bed with several pillows supporting your upper back and head. Placing a pillow under the right side of your back will allow you to lie partially on your left side to promote improved circulation. You may also find that avoiding spicy food, eating several smaller meals throughout the day, and taking a chewable antacid can help relieve heartburn.
The Racing Mind
Congratulations, you’ve found a comfortable position! Now you start thinking … that deadline at work, how you will afford child care, the best color to paint the baby’s room. Pregnancy is an exciting time, and as the day winds down your mind may wander, causing anxiety and the inability to fall asleep. Pregnancy hormones can make you more emotional and sensitive, thus more affected by stressful events. High-sugar snacks and caffeinated drinks will also stimulate you, as will exercising too close to bedtime.
Relaxation exercises, deep breathing, or reading a book in bed might help quiet your mind at night. Try to avoid stressful conversations, checking email, and watching television before bed to reduce the likelihood of a racing mind. Although exercising too late in the day will likely keep you wound up, daily exercise a few hours before bed helps reduce stress and improve nighttime sleep.
Using the Bathroom Again and Again and Again
You’ve finally drifted off into a peaceful sleep, when you awaken with the dire need to visit the bathroom. Frequent nighttime trips to the bathroom are common, especially as your baby grows. Your body is working to eliminate some of the extra fluid that you carry when pregnant. Also, the expanding uterus places pressure on the bladder, increasing your sense of urgency. You can try a few techniques to decrease the number of nightly bathroom runs (or waddles).
Good hydration is very important during pregnancy, so minimizing fluid intake is not an option. Be sure to drink adequate amounts of water and noncaffeinated drinks throughout the day. Try to limit how much you drink in the hour before going to bed to reduce the need to urinate during the night. Before going to sleep, visit the bathroom. Then get into bed, lie on your left side, and read, relax, or talk to your partner for about half an hour. During this time, the position of your uterus will shift and put some stress on the bladder. Get up and empty your bladder again. This can help avoid at least one potential sleep interruption (which can make a big difference in how much sleep you get).
If it’s not a full bladder waking you, it’s sure to be a “hello” jolt from your darling baby. My favorite experience in pregnancy was feeling my babies’ kicks, flips, and hiccups—during the day. Somehow, it became less special in the dark of night as I lay wide awake watching the clock tick while a dance party ensued in my belly. These bursts of fetal activity at night are common. During the day, your regular movements soothe the baby and lull her to sleep; however, when you become still at night, the baby is more likely to perk up.
Avoid high-sugar and caffeinated food and drinks before bed as these will keep you awake and may also start your baby into motion. If you choose to snack before bed, try a high-protein snack which will keep your blood sugar levels steady. Also, try not to watch the clock, which can make you feel more anxious about the precious minutes of sleep you’re missing. You can even put a positive spin on these late night awakenings. Think of it as your baby’s way of checking in to let you know she’s all right (and as good practice for sleepless nights with a newborn). Or instead of counting sheep, you can always count kicks to help you fall asleep.
All of this said, you may still contend with disrupted sleep. In the remaining weeks or months of your pregnancy, try to take advantage of any opportunity to nap or rest with your feet up during the day. If your boss suggests you go home early, or a family member offers to watch your kids for an hour, jump on the chance to rest—before you run that one errand or quickly clean the house. You may still have problems sleeping at night, but an afternoon siesta can give you a little lift to help you get through the remainder of your day.
As frustrating and draining as it can be, try not to let sleep loss put a damper on your pregnancy. You will sleep a full night again … eventually.