Disrupted sleep in pregnancy: what’s behind it and what to do
It’s normal for pregnant women to experience sleep disruption but there are things you can do to get you through. From advice on the ideal sleeping position to tackling wider worries, Vhi Midwife Support Service Manager Breda Crotty is here to help you rest easier.
Every pregnant woman's experience is really unique. But one constant for a happy pregnancy is getting enough sleep. Indeed, rest is just as important as good patterns of exercise and a healthy diet when we look at the contributing factors to positive health and wellbeing.
However, rest is often low down on today’s list of priorities. Sometimes I think we’re victims of our success, in how most of us will be working full-time during our pregnancy, possibly travelling, and juggling multiple commitments. So, when you know that you should be sleeping between seven to nine hours per night, anything that eats into that time can fuel your anxiety. And that will only disrupt your sleep further! To stop you lying awake at night mulling it all over, here’s everything you need to know for a better night’s sleep.
Know your ideal position
We always advise pregnant women to sleep on their left side. It’s the safest option for mum and baby for lots of reasons, plus, it’s more comfortable!
Lying on your back can actually make you feel dizzy and is not good for your baby. This is because as the uterus grows, lying on your back causes it to lean on the inferior vena cava, a large blood vessel in your abdomen, which can affect blood flow.
I would recommend you avoid lying on your back and start sleeping on your side as soon as you realise you’re pregnant, to form good habits for later. As the pregnancy progresses, placing a pillow underneath your bump will reduce any further risks to the baby. Sleeping on your left can also help your kidneys get rid of waste and fluids and ease itchy, painful varicose veins.
Acid reflux can arise in early stages, causing discomfort during the night. Sleeping with a pillow high enough to comfortably elevate your head will help combat this.
Get in tune with your baby
As your baby grows, it’s normal for women to worry about their movements. This can impact your own sleep. Babies have periods of sleep and inactivity – and then at times they’ll wake up in the middle of the night and give you a kick! They don’t see the clock in there but they have their own cycles throughout the day. Every baby is different.
The best advice is to mindfully assess your baby’s movements. This doesn’t mean you have to precisely count up, say, 12 movements in a day. Just know what becomes normal for the two of you and then use that as your standard, so if there is an any noteworthy change, you can touch base with your healthcare provider.
Be mindful of food and drink
Aside from your belly and bed, there are other areas to look at. First off, avoiding tea and coffee should help. You’ll probably be cutting down anyway, but certainly cut them out in the evenings. The recommend caffeine intake per day is below 200 milligrams per day. A mug of tea is around 75mg, with a filtered coffee being around 140mg. Avoiding spicy foods and sticking to plainer, smaller regular meals will also help with acid reflux. Avoid eating heavy meals in the evening because it will keep your digestion busy and keep you up.
Practice good sleep hygiene
Sleep hygiene requires routine. So try eating, then some gentle exercise like an evening walk, before settling down with some relaxing music and without too much screen time right before bed. Yoga and Pilates are particularly good exercises to help you unwind. Just make sure you go to a well-qualified instructor who knows you are pregnant.
Get used to napping
One key message is to simply rest when you can. You might not be used to napping during the day, but if you need it, go with your body. A lot of women might say, “oh but I won’t sleep tonight if I do.” You might not sleep tonight anyway, so listen to your body and know that napping will keep you going.
Address your concerns
There are plenty of things that can cause anxiety during pregnancy, so getting a handle on these will help you rest more easily. Stress can even visit while you sleep! It is true that pregnancy can cause you to have more vivid dreams and they can be very unsettling for people who haven’t experienced them before.
Remember that nightmares don’t mean that anything bad is going to happen to you. It just feels more “real” during pregnancy. It can be strange, but a lot of people experience it – including myself! Talk to friends, family members, other pregnant women - you’ll soon realise it’s not just you and that can be very reassuring. We can be used to working at a high level where we’re always in control so to all of sudden have so many questions and uncertainty can be really unsettling.
Draw on your support network
Whether you have questions around disrupted sleep or there are other things keeping you up at night, expert advice can really help. The reassurance alone that comes with knowing what is and isn't normal should pave the way for a more restful night.
There’s a difference between normal fatigue slightly impacting your productivity and feeling unmotivated, unable to get out of bed and very down. Seek support if things are getting out of hand. Don’t be fearful of it; it’s always good to ask for help in pregnancy. Nobody’s ever going to judge you! We’re here to help.
Access expert help for sleep disturbances and anything else that happens during your pregnancy. Learn about Vhi's maternity support services here.
This content is for information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek advice from your GP or an appropriate medical professional if you have concerns about your health, or before commencing a new healthcare regime. If you believe that you are experiencing a medical emergency call 999 / 112 or seek emergency assistance immediately.
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Vhi Midwife Support Service Manager