Lifestyle
Lifestyle

Sleeping While Pregnant: Picking the Right Position for You and Your Baby

By Juliann Scholl

Reviewed by: Dr. Sherrie Neustein

Updated March 17, 2021

 

Pregnancy is arguably one of the most profound and pivotal times in a woman’s life, both physically and emotionally. Your body is undergoing a rapid evolution, including surges of hormones that are necessary to maintain pregnancy. These hormones are also responsible for mood swings and daytime sleepiness (1).

It's important to obtain as much quality rest as possible during the transformative time of pregnancy. We’ll cover what to expect at bedtime for each trimester, including tips to improve your sleep, and how to pick the ideal sleeping position for you and your baby during pregnancy.

Sleeping Tips for Each Trimester During Pregnancy

During pregnancy, it’s important to aim for the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep per night (2). Although receiving a good night’s rest is important (3) no matter your sex or age, sleeping while pregnant takes on new significance due to the body’s physiological and psychological changes during pregnancy. These changes can cause a plethora of discomforts, including:

  • Nausea
  • Heartburn
  • Leg cramps
  • Excessive urination
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Back pain

Symptoms of pregnancy can also prevent you from getting the sleep you need and possibly lead to sleep disorders (4), which have been shown to have increased risks for pregnant women in their third trimester.

As your body transforms during each trimester of pregnancy, sleep may become more and more elusive. However, with some simple tips for each trimester, you can reclaim some coveted rest and relaxation.

First Trimester:

Sleep during the first trimester of pregnancy has its own challenges, including high levels of progesterone that can bring on the need for some serious shut-eye during daytime hours, yet disrupt your sleep during nighttime hours. You may also find it difficult to find a comfortable sleeping position due to tender and swollen breasts, acid reflux, and the surging hormones that are working to help incubate your baby can cause you to feel overheated.

To help compensate for these conditions, try the following tips:

  • Nap during the day if your schedule permits
  • Try a side sleeping position at this stage, especially if you are a stomach sleeper
  • Wear cooler sleepwear and keep your bedroom temperature lower

Second Trimester:

Sleep during the second trimester of pregnancy might come a little easier, giving you a bit of a breather. This respite is usually due to subsiding morning sickness.

Although you may not have the nagging symptoms you experienced in your first trimester, your back could now begin to ache. If so, avoid sleeping on your stomach or back (5), which can exacerbate back pain and also create pressure on the major vein that brings blood from your lower body up to your heart.

You may want to take advantage of the relatively calm second trimester to create some sound sleep rituals, such as going to bed and waking at the same time every day and listening to soothing music before bed. Habits you adopt now will help you in your third trimester, when obtaining sound sleep is more challenging.

Extra pillows can also help ease back pain by keeping your spine aligned — try placing one between your knees and another to help support your stomach. If you don’t have extra pillows at home, you may want to consider purchasing special pillows for pregnancy to help alleviate pregnancy-related discomforts.

Common physical complaints during the second trimester that may impact sleep include:

  • Headaches
  • Leg aches or cramps
  • Restless leg syndrome

Third Trimester:

You’re in the final stretch of your pregnancy, but trying to get a reasonable amount of sleep during the third trimester of pregnancy can feel like a futile exercise. Heartburn, frequent trips to the bathroom, and your changing body can make the situation worse. Additionally, pregnancy increases the risk of breathing disorders like obstructive sleep apnea and snoring (6).

Some tips to promote better sleep during your third trimester include:

  • Continue sleeping on your side
  • Use pillows for spinal alignment
  • Keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature
  • Avoid spicy foods or caffeine
  • Keep use of electronic devices to a minimum in the evenings
  • Lower your lights and keep noise at a minimum

If you’re still not sleeping well during the third trimester, try not to stress about it too much —  sleep troubles are common in the final weeks of pregnancy, and won’t hurt your baby. A decrease in sleep can, however, lead to a longer labor (7) and increase the likelihood of a Cesarean section delivery. If you’re struggling to obtain enough sleep at night in your third trimester, try to catch up by napping during the day if you can.

Sleeping Positions During Pregnancy

While your body is adapting to pregnancy, tossing and turning takes on a whole new level of meaning — it can become increasingly difficult to figure out the best sleeping position. Listening to your body and following a few simple guidelines can help ensure you are ideally positioned to sleep comfortably during your pregnancy.

Sleeping on Your Side While Pregnant

Sleeping on your side is a good idea for all trimesters of your pregnancy. However, if you are suffering from gastroesophageal reflux disease (8) (better known as GERD or heartburn) during your second or third trimester, you might want to avoid sleeping on your right side, since this side can cause a flare-up in GERD symptoms (9).

People often claim that sleeping on your left side while pregnant is best, stating that it promotes the flow of blood to your kidneys and your fetus. Some, but not all, research backs up this claim. Although experts generally agree side sleeping is best, one study found that left and right side sleeping positions are equally safe for unborn babies (10). If sleeping on your left side isn't comfortable for you, don't hesitate to sleep on your right.

Sleeping on Your Back While Pregnant

Many people naturally gravitate toward sleeping on their backs. While it may feel good to sleep on your back during pregnancy, you should avoid this position by your second trimester. The weight of your midsection plus gravity from lying on your back can put pressure on the main vein that returns blood from your lower body to your heart. This pressure can cause difficulty breathing and low blood pressure, which can make you feel lightheaded or dizzy.

Sleeping on your back during pregnancy can also cause digestive problems, low blood pressure, hemorrhoids, and decreased circulation. Research has also shown that sleeping on your back can lead to negative outcomes at birth.

Sleeping on Your Stomach While Pregnant

If you’re a stomach sleeper, you may worry that this sleeping position could harm your fetus. You can rest easy — the wall of the uterus has thickened to help protect your baby. Even though it's safe, you likely won’t find stomach-sleeping comfortable in your second and third trimesters.

The Foundation of a Healthy Sleep During Pregnancy — Your Mattress

During pregnancy, sleep can be disrupted by myriad discomforts resulting from the dramatic physiological changes that are occurring in your body. One of the biggest offenders among pregnant women is lower back pain. To help alleviate back pain while sleeping during pregnancy, sleeping on a more supportive mattress is key.

The ideal mattress during pregnancy should conform to your body, improve alignment of your spine, and help keep you on an even plane without the mattress sagging too much.

Some tips for choosing a mattress during pregnancy include:

  • Zoned mattresses may be the most comfortable and offer the best support for the lower back
  • Latex mattresses (11) may alleviate more pressure in the back and buttocks than other mattress types
  • Medium firm mattresses may provide more relief from lower back pain symptoms as opposed to firm models

Frequently Asked Questions:

Is it okay to nap to help make up for lost sleep while I’m pregnant?

It’s fine to nap during the day, but try not to sleep too long or nap too late — doing so can interfere with your nighttime sleep.

What’s the best sleeping position during pregnancy?

Side sleeping during pregnancy has been shown to be the safest and most comfortable position.

Why is it not recommended to sleep on my back while pregnant?

Sleeping on your back can exacerbate back pain and also create pressure on the major vein that works to bring blood from your lower body back to your heart.

I get overheated at night — how can I help control that?

Wear cooler sleepwear and keep your bedroom temperature lower.  Recommended room temperatures for adult women are 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit, so aim for the lower end of that range.

 

References

 

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26055670/ Accessed on February 24, 2021.
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29073412/ Accessed on February 24, 2021.
  3. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000871.htm Accessed on February 24, 2021.
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28796676/ Accessed on February 24, 2021.
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21708015/ Accessed on February 24, 2021.
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22999158/ Accessed on February 24, 2021.
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29152887/ Accessed on February 24, 2021.
  8.  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31890101/ Accessed on February 24, 2021.
  9. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/410292 Accessed on February 24, 2021.
  10. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/eclinm/article/PIIS2589-5370(19)30054-9/fulltext Accessed February 24, 2021.
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5310954/ Accessed on February 24, 2021.