It has been suggested that insomnia during pregnancy is nature’s way of preparing women for motherhood! Pregnancy brings a number of changes to sleep, from feeling very tired and sleepy to suffering from insomnia and other sleep disturbances.
During the early months, hormonal changes make many prospective mothers sleepy and in need of extra sleep. This may be difficult to accommodate with work or other children to look after. The early months mean the body and mind are adjusting to new demands and this may cause anxiety which also affects sleep.
Morning sickness is a common complaint in early pregnancy. Unfortunately, despite its name, the nausea is not always confined to the mornings and may continue throughout the day and into the evening. It usually only lasts during the early months but the unpleasant feeling may cause wakening. Eating small regular snacks can help, and some women find that eating some dry toast or a biscuit before getting up helps with early morning nausea.
Heartburn is common throughout pregnancy. Hormonal changes cause a softening of the valve between the stomach and oesophagus. This means that some partly digested foods may leak back into the oesophagus causing the burning sensation that is felt in the chest. This and other changes in digestion can cause a feeling of bloating and cause constipation. Acidic, spicy and fatty foods and large meals are best avoided before bedtime. A late night snack or a milky drink may help induce sleep and prevent night time hunger.
The need to get up during the night to urinate is often one of the first signs of pregnancy. The growing uterus starts to put pressure on the bladder which creates the urge that can cause wakefulness. Drinking plenty of liquids during the day and completely emptying the bladder before sleep may help delay the urge.
Hormonal changes including the rise of progesterone can cause feelings of tiredness during the day and difficulty in sleeping at night. Tender breasts and restlessness also add to the problems sleeping during the early months.
Some comfort can be found in the knowledge that sleep will improve as pregnancy progresses. Extra naps during the day and starting an exercise routine that can be continued through pregnancy helps many women prepare for a healthy pregnancy. Identifying any other sleep disturbances such as restless leg syndrome, snoring and anxiety may help the pregnant mother find ways to improve sleep during this special time.
Most women find some respite during the second trimester when they are able to sleep well and have more energy during the day. If sleeping is difficult it may be associated with other sleep disturbances or anxiety.
The second trimester is a good time to adjust to the challenges of sleeping with a growing body. Finding a comfortable sleeping position is important. Trying different positions and using pillows or cushions for support will help during later months. Body temperature may also affect sleeping and extra or less bedding needed than usual. Some women also report ‘cravings’ which may affect their sleep.
Studies have shown that most women suffer from sleep disturbances and insomnia as the birth comes nearer. This is not surprising as the body becomes heavier and it seems almost impossible to get comfortable. It also seems that as soon as you are about to drift off, pressure on the bladder means yet another trip to the loo! Added to this is an escalation of other problems such as heartburn and leg cramps, and the anxiety of the impending birth and sleep may seem like a distant memory…
Preparing for birth often means trying to catch up on sleep by taking daytime naps and plenty of rest. It is a good time to learn relaxation techniques and taking gentle exercise such as yoga, stretching and swimming.
Sleep and Partners
Partners may have their sleep affected during pregnancy. Emotional changes affect both partners and anxiety is one of the major causes of insomnia. Sex may be more or less frequent and both partners will need to adjust to changes in the bedroom. Communication and support is important at this time, and an awareness of the importance of sleep will contribute to a healthy and happy pregnancy.