Sleep During Pregnancy

Fact-Checked

Written By: Matthew Whittle
Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Sherrie Neustein

 

From heartburn to leg cramps, sleep issues are common during pregnancy. Studies suggest that up to 92% of pregnant people experience sleep issues at some point during their pregnancy. We explore the many ways in which pregnancy impacts sleep, and share tips for sleeping better while pregnant.

How Does Pregnancy Impact Sleep?

Pregnancy brings a host of physical and psychological changes that can affect sleep. Body weight increases by around 20% during pregnancy. The growing uterus displaces your diaphragm and affects breathing, while pain and pressure in the lower back can make it tough to find a comfortable sleep position.

Fluctuating hormone levels contribute to nausea, daytime sleepiness , and snoring at night. Increased nighttime urination and heartburn can also disrupt sleep.

On the psychological side, pregnant people are more likely to experience distressing dreams and nightmares that interrupt sleep. Worries about the baby’s health can also keep expecting parents up at night.

Each trimester is marked by general trends in sleep issues, but overall sleep quality tends to be worst at the end of the third trimester.

  • First Trimester: Hormonal fluctuations often cause people to sleep more during the first trimester.
  • Second Trimester: Sleep time may shorten during the second trimester, with research suggesting that one in four pregnant people sleep for less than seven hours per night.
  • Third Trimester: During the third trimester, pregnant people tend to wake up more often during the night and obtain less sleep overall.

Common Sleep Issues During Pregnancy

Common sleep issues that arise during pregnancy include insomnia, heartburn, snoring, obstructive sleep apnea, and restless legs syndrome.

Insomnia

One study found that over 90% of pregnant people woke up frequently during the night, and nearly 70% reported taking longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep. For some, increased anxiety during pregnancy may contribute to insomnia.

Heartburn

Heartburn is common during pregnancy, affecting between 17% and 45% of pregnant people. Symptoms typically worsen at night, which may make it difficult to fall asleep. Fortunately, pregnancy-related heartburn typically goes away on its own soon after childbirth.

Snoring and Obstructive Sleep Apnea

By the third trimester, up to 45% of pregnant people experience loud snoring as a result of fluctuating hormone levels and added pressure on the diaphragm.

Obstructive sleep apnea may also develop during pregnancy. This sleep-related breathing disorder is associated with multiple partial or complete pauses in breathing during sleep, and it can cause sleepiness and fatigue during the day.

Restless Legs Syndrome

Up to 30% of people experience restless legs syndrome (RLS) during pregnancy. People with RLS feel uncomfortable sensations in their legs, usually when lying down, that can only be relieved by moving the legs. The symptoms of RLS can be distressing and frustrating, impairing the person’s ability to rest or sleep. Several studies have shown that symptoms usually go away after the baby is born, although some people may still experience RLS afterwards.

Pregnancy Dreams

Pregnant people report having more nightmares and bad dreams, particularly later in their pregnancy. These nightmares may disrupt sleep and cause nighttime awakenings. Dream content during pregnancy may center around pregnancy, childbirth, or parenthood. The dreams of pregnant people are also more likely to contain morbid content, which may reflect the stress and worries that come up during pregnancy.

Why Sleep Matters During Pregnancy

Quality sleep supports healthy development of the fetus and helps the expecting parent prepare for the birth.

Poor sleep during pregnancy can lead to complications for both the parent and child. Research suggests that those who receive less than six hours of sleep per night near the end of their pregnancy are more likely to require a cesarean delivery (C-section) or experience longer labor times.  Sleep deprivation also causes a stress response in the body that may cause an increased risk of postpartum depression and premature birth.

Snoring and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) during pregnancy have both been linked to an increased risk of preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and unplanned C-section. OSA may also increase the risk of preterm birth and low birth weight.

How to Sleep When Pregnant: On Your Side

Sleeping on the left side is best during pregnancy because it reduces the pressure on your liver and heart. This helps improve blood flow to your organs and the fetus. Side sleeping can also relieve snoring and sleep apnea by keeping your airways open.

To help yourself stay in position, you can place pillows around you to prevent you from rolling onto your stomach or back. Placing small pillows between your legs, under your stomach, or in the small of your back may help reduce pressure buildup. Body pillows or pregnancy pillows may provide additional comfort, and raising the head of the bed may reduce heartburn.

Tips for Better Sleep While Pregnant

Making certain lifestyle changes may help promote sound sleep during pregnancy.

Modify Your Eating Habits

Avoiding fatty foods and eating smaller meals may help ward off heartburn. Try to wrap up your last meal and reduce fluid intake several hours before bedtime to minimize nighttime awakenings.

Exercise Daily

Research shows that those who exercise while pregnant tend to enjoy more uninterrupted sleep than those who do not exercise at all. Experts recommend pregnant people engage in 30 minutes of moderate exercise on a daily or near-daily basis. Plan to end your exercise session well before bedtime so it does not interfere with sleep.

Relax Your Mind and Body Before Bed

Before bed, try to avoid activities that are overly stimulating. Instead, wind down with a calming bedtime routine, perhaps one that incorporates a warm bath or shower, light massage, or meditation.

Try Napping

Napping can help you recoup some of the sleep you miss at night. However, keep in mind that long naps can negatively affect sleep quality and your ability to sleep through the night, so try to keep naps short and several hours prior to bedtime.

Sleep disorders and other secondary conditions that arise during pregnancy may need to be treated directly. If you are having trouble sleeping or coping with stress, talk to your doctor. They can provide additional recommendations and treatment options to support you and your baby’s health.

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