You expected sleep deprivation to come with having a baby — but you may not have expected it to really start until you’d had the baby. Now you know: It can be almost as hard to get a good night’s sleep when you’re pregnant as it is when you’re a new parent. In fact, according to a 2016 study, a whopping 78 percent of women experience sleep problems at some point (or many points!) during pregnancy. With all that’s going on in your body — and brain — it’s no wonder that a full night’s rest can be so elusive.
But there is something you can do about it. Here are a few of the most common sleep-busting conditions, along with tips on how to overcome them.
Frequent Need to Pee
When it happens: Usually in the first and third trimesters
Why it happens: Higher levels of the pregnancy hormone hCG can mean having to run to the bathroom frequently, day and night. Plus, your kidneys have to filter up to 50 percent more blood than usual — which also means more urine (basically, you’re peeing for two). In the third trimester, your growing uterus presses down on your bladder, increasing your urge to go.
What you can do about it: Drink plenty of liquids throughout the day, but cut back a little when it’s closer to bedtime (i.e. it’s probably best not to guzzle a 16-ounce bottle of water right before you go to sleep). When you do need to get up to go, leave a night light on in the bathroom (or install a simple dimmer switch). Flipping on the overhead can be too much of a wake-up call and may make it harder to fall back asleep.
When it happens: Throughout pregnancy, but especially in the second and third trimesters
Why it happens: Many pregnancy sleep struggles come from just not being able to find a comfortable position to sleep in. Inveterate stomach-sleepers find that they eventually can’t sleep in this position anymore. Meanwhile, back sleepers also have to search for a new path to slumber, since back-sleeping isn’t advised past the first trimester. When you lie flat on your back, the weight of your growing uterus presses on the main vein carrying blood from your lower body back to your heart, interfering with circulation.
What to do about it: Sleeping on your side — your left side, if possible — makes things easier on your circulatory system and is safest for your baby. It also results in less swelling in your feet, ankles and hands, since it enhances kidney function. If you’re not used to the position, it can make falling asleep harder, in which case pillows are your pals: between your knees, under your abdomen, behind your back (whatever works!).
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When it happens: Anytime
Why it happens: While you can experience heartburn at any time of day, it’s often worse at night when you’re lying down. You can thank pregnancy hormones for this painful sensation in your esophagus, which relax the muscle that normally keeps stomach acid where it belongs: inside the stomach. You’ll also feel a surge late in the last trimester, when your baby bump pushes up on your stomach.
What you can do about it: Heartburn-soothing strategies can help — including avoiding spicy, greasy and acidic foods; eating smaller meals; having dinner at least two hours before bedtime; and propping your head up with a couple of pillows. So can antacids like Tums and Rolaids, along with proton-pump inhibitors, but only if your doctor gives you the go-ahead.
When it happens: Anytime
Why it happens: Anxiety, hormones and any of the above sleep problems can contribute to insomnia during pregnancy, the inability to fall or stay asleep. It’s super common and super frustrating.
What to do about it: Have a good wind-down routine before bed and practice good “sleep hygiene” (read more about how in the tips below). But if you’re still having trouble sleeping, be sure to ask your doctor for help.
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When it happens: Usually in the second half of pregnancy
Why it happens: No one’s quite sure what leads to these painful spasms in the calves, but it might be compression of blood vessels in the legs and fatigue as you carry that extra pregnancy weight. Although you’ll sometimes experience leg cramps during the day, they’re typically more common — or at least more noticeable — at night.
What you can do about it: One theory attributes leg cramps to low calcium and magnesium levels, so upping your intake of those minerals in your diet may help (yogurt and soy are good sources of calcium, while beans are a great source of magnesium). Talk to your doctor about whether you should be getting more and, if so, how much. And ask about taking a magnesium supplement before bed. During the day, drink plenty of water, stretch your legs and wear support hose, weather permitting. When you get a cramp, try straightening your leg, then gently flexing your foot and ankle toward your nose (but don’t point your toes). If the pain is severe and persistent, definitely check in with your doctor. Although it’s rare, it’s possible cramps may actually be a sign of a blood clot.
When it happens: Anytime
Why it happens: Higher estrogen and progesterone levels increase blood volume everywhere — including to the membranes in your nose. This causes them to swell and produce more mucus than ever, leading to a perpetually stuffy nose as well as postnasal drip later on in your pregnancy that might even cause you to cough at night.
What you can do about it: Saline nasal sprays and nose strips are safe and can ease nighttime stuffiness. If those don’t work, check with your doctor about other options, including some decongestants or steroid nasal sprays that may be OK after the first trimester.
Snoring and Sleep Apnea
When it happens: Anytime
Why it happens: You can blame that perpetually stuffy nose for the new noisier-at-night you; gaining too much weight can make the problem worse. And snoring is more than just annoying to you and your partner: Sometimes it indicates sleep apnea, when you briefly stop breathing. Since apnea has been linked to high blood pressure and gestational diabetes, be sure to discuss snoring with your doctor and ask if you should be evaluated.
What you can do about it: Try strategies for snoring, including propping your head with pillows and sleeping with a nasal strip on and cool mist humidifier running.
Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)
When it happens: Usually in the third trimester
Why it happens: While experts aren’t exactly sure what causes RLS, an estimated 15 percent of pregnant women suffer from this odd condition in the third trimester. If you have RLS, you’ll feel an uncomfortable, sleep-sapping sensation of crawling or tingling in your legs, with an urge to move them.
What you can do about it: Since RLS has been linked to an iron deficiency (anemia), ask your doctor about getting your levels tested. If your stores are low, he or she will recommend supplements. A test may also reveal you’re low in magnesium or vitamin D, both of which can also trigger RLS and can be treated with supplements. Otherwise, daily exercise can help, as can acupuncture, yoga, meditation and other relaxation techniques. Avoiding too much caffeine is a good idea for sleep (and necessary during pregnancy) anyway, but it may be especially useful if you have RLS. Another trick to try: Apply hot or cold packs to your legs before bed.
Solutions to Your Pregnancy Sleep Problems
These healthy pregnancy sleep tips can apply to many sleep-stealers, so try them to see if they help you. You should also mention any sleep problems to your doctor, who might be able to suggest more solutions or even medications that are safe during pregnancy.
- Avoid caffeine in all its forms — including chocolate — after noon.
- Stay away from sugar at night, which will give you an energy boost when you least want one and leave your blood sugar levels wobbly.
- Get your eight glasses of water (or other fluids) every day, but taper off at night. Drink if you’re thirsty, but don’t down a giant glass of water or cup of tea right before bedtime.
- Work out daily, but only until the early evening (if it comes too close to bedtime, it could actually sabotage sleep, since exercise is energizing).
- Have a light snack before hitting the hay to stave off overnight hunger pangs. Include protein and a complex carb (think cheese and a whole-grain muffin). Wash it down with a few sips of warm milk or decaffeinated tea.
- Take a warm bath just before bed. It will soothe and relax you, and can help summon the sandman sooner.
- Crack a window if you feel hot and stuffy and it’s not cold outside. If the weather’s not cooperative, keep your room comfortably cool.
- Make love if you’re in the mood, or ask your mate for a massage. Both can relax you.
- Try some relaxation exercises — visualization, deep breathing, meditation, yoga or even chanting. Counting sheep can work the same way — the monotony of watching those little guys jump over the fence really can send you off to dreamland (unless you associate them with insomnia).
- Don’t watch the clock. It’s a surefire way to make you more stressed. Instead, try doing something else to unwind (read, listen to music, meditate) until you feel sleepy.
- Try not to stress. Worrying about your lack of sleep only makes things worse. Sometimes just letting go is all it takes to nod off.
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