How to Get Better Sleep During and After Your Pregnancy

Trouble sleeping is a common experience both during and after pregnancy.

Between bathroom breaks, stomach troubles, and out-of-control hormones, it’s understandable if you find yourself getting up at least a couple times throughout the night.

That said, you might be making it harder on yourself than it needs to be!

Here are some of our top tips for improving the quality of your sleep both during and after your pregnancy.

Image: pregnant woman sleepingHow Common is Insomnia During Pregnancy?

If you’re regularly experiencing sleepless nights during your pregnancy, don’t worry – you’re not alone.

Roughly 78% of women will experience insomnia during any given pregnancy, and occasional sleepless nights are to be expected.

Sleeplessness typically becomes more common as the pregnancy progresses, but many women’s sleep quality often starts to deteriorate during the first trimester.

Although you’ll likely be getting more sleep during early pregnancy, hormonal swings and various physical problems can make a good night’s sleep harder and harder to come by.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than 97% of pregnant women are waking up at night by the end of the third trimester, at an average of 3.11 times per night.

These periodic awakenings can make sleep far less restful than it used to be, since it takes your body time to progress through the necessary sleep stages.

Even if you’re getting more hours than you used to, you may find yourself waking up tired.

How to Find the Right Sleeping Position

Sleeping in the wrong position is a common reason for interrupted sleep.

If you tend to sleep on your back or stomach, for instance, you may find yourself waking up short of breath and with a racing pulse.

This is because those kinds of sleep positions place pressure on the inferior vena cava (IVC), a vein in your lower back that supplies blood to the heart.

Back and stomach sleeping often cut off circulation in the IVC, making it harder for your heart to get enough oxygen.

It starts beating overtime to compensate, creating a stress response that can jerk you out of even the deepest sleep.

You may also feel dizzy or lightheaded upon waking, again caused by lack of blood flow.

Back sleeping in particular can also inhibit the amount of nutrients getting to the placenta, potentially putting your baby at risk.

All in all, side sleeping is just a much safer and healthier sleeping strategy.

Sleeping on your left side in particular increases blood flow to the placenta.

Image: pregnant woman with heartburnHow to Avoid Pregnancy Heartburn

Left side sleeping is also a great way to fight back against another common pregnancy side effect, heartburn.

As your uterus continues to swell, the digestive tract has to go through a bit of rearranging.

Heartburn – also known as gastric reflux – occurs when your lower esophageal sphincter (LES) isn’t closing the way it’s supposed to.

The LES is a ring of muscle at the bottom of your esophagus that connects it to your stomach.

Normally, it only opens up to allow food to pass through, and then immediately closes tight.

During pregnancy, however, that whole area tends to get somewhat loosened up – and when you’re lying down for sleep, you no longer have gravity on your side.

Because of this, stomach acid sometimes leaks out through the LES and starts eating away at the lining of your esophagus, creating that awful burning sensation you may know all too well.

Thankfully, however, there are a couple things you can do to prevent these unpleasant symptoms.

Sleeping on your left side, for instance, arranges your digestive tract in a way that makes it less likely for stomach acid to leak out.

If you’re still having issues with late-night heartburn, you can also try propping your head and shoulders up on pillows.

This can help get gravity working for you again and keep those gut juices in their place.

You’ll also want to avoid eating at night as much as possible, since the more you have in your stomach, the more likely heartburn will be.

Steer clear of fatty foods in particular, since these are what cause your stomach to produce a lot of that acid.

Also avoid anything too spicy or acidic, since these foods can irritate the esophagus and cause the LES to open.

Finally, if you’re still having trouble with nighttime heartburn, you can also try moving dinner to earlier in the day, or even just eat a smaller dinner and make lunch your biggest meal.

How to Deal With Pre-Birth Anxiety

Another common cause of sleeplessness during pregnancy is pre-birth anxiety.

Worrying about labor and delivery and everything that comes with them can leave you tossing and turning for hours – and of course, it’s all too easy for those anxieties to multiply as time goes by.

One way to deal with this kind of anxiety is to keep a worry journal, where you just write down everything you’ve been mulling over to get it off your chest.

This is pure free writing, so don’t worry about the way you’re sounding or what your worries look like when they’re on paper.

By acknowledging all the pressure they’ve been building up inside, many people find it easier to move past it.

Another common stress release method is meditation.

While it might sound sort of mystical or complicated, meditation is actually a very simple way to keep yourself centered when it feels like you’re spiraling out of control.

In fact, you can try it without ever even getting out of bed!

All it involves is focusing on your breathing.

Focus on the feeling of your breath as it goes in and out of your body.

Don’t try to breathe in any particular way, but just observe what it feels like as your lungs contract and expand.

Acknowledge all the worries that are going through your head, but allow yourself to think of them as fleeting things, like ripples on still water.

Above all, just think about your breathing.

In. Out. In. Out.

When your thoughts start to wander, gently rein yourself back in.

Within a couple minutes, you should start to feel yourself relaxing – and soon enough, you’ll be well on your way to sleep.

Image: worried woman can't sleep
Cork, Ireland

Don’t Count the Hours

In addition to all the anxieties that so often come with pregnancy itself, sleeplessness can come with its own entourage of worries.

 Worrying about how late it is and how little sleep you’re going to get is actually one of the easiest ways to keep yourself from getting any!

Because of this, after about 20 minutes of lying in bed trying to get to sleep, most experts recommend simply getting up and doing something else.

Go off into a different room and do some calming activity, like reading or making yourself some herbal tea.

Above all, do not look at the clock to count how many hours there are until morning.

Seeing those numbers isn’t going to change anything.

All it will do is stress you out!

Develop a Soothing Nighttime Routine

Another easy way to improve your sleep is to develop a soothing nighttime routine.

Our brains are designed to key in on patterns, so the more regular you can make the steps you go through while preparing to sleep, the easier drifting off will be.

Many experts actually recommend setting a “buffer zone” of at least 30 minutes between the rest of your day and your sleep, during which you avoid any kind of stressful work.

Take this time to unwind, preferably in pretty much the same way every night.

Common calming activities include reading, listening to music, or taking a warm shower or bath.

Avoid Electronics at Night

If you’re like most people, you’ll probably be tempted to turn to some kind of electronics to help you through this cool-down time.

Whether it’s the TV, your laptop, your tablet or your phone, much of our free time is spent plunked down in front of some kind of screen. 

Unfortunately, however, electronics are actually extremely ineffective as sleep aids.

Our brains’ pineal glands, you see, start producing the hormone melatonin in response to decreased light levels in your environment.

Melatonin is one of the most important chemicals when it comes to your sleep – but unfortunately, if you’re exposed to too much light before turning in, this disrupts melatonin production and confuses your brain.

Because of this, it’s really best to avoid all bright lights at night as much as possible, especially in the hour or two before bed.

The blue lights produced by the LEDs of most modern electronics are particularly disruptive, which is why most experts recommend avoiding any kind of screen time at night.

Conclusion

These are just a few ways to improve the quality of your sleep during and after pregnancy.

If you’re looking for more information, you can read our full article on effective sleep hygiene tips here.

Trouble sleeping during pregnancy is normal, and nothing to be worried about.

Just keep calm, and know that what you’re experiencing is common and will pass.

You’ve got this!