Every woman who’s ever been pregnant knows that one of the biggest challenges of pregnancy (after figuring out when to announce your pregnancy) is getting enough sleep.
We feel huge and uncomfortable, we’re hot, we start snoring even if we never did before, and when we do sleep we have really weird dreams.
Depending on how you look at it, pregnancy sleep is either a way of making us miserable before the big day arrives, or it’s nature’s way of gradually adjusting our bodies to the shock of feeding a baby at all hours of the night.
I’m going to choose to take the positive angle here… But I’m still going to do everything I can to make sure I get as much restful sleep as I can.
What causes poor pregnancy sleep?
Before we go into solutions for improving sleep during pregnancy, it’s helpful to talk about some of the reasons for poor sleep.
In the first trimester, here are some of the reasons your sleep may suffer.
Extreme exhaustion can cause you to nap too long during the day so that you can’t fall asleep at night. It’s kind of a vicious cycle. Poor sleep at night leads to too much sleep during the day leads to poor sleep at night…
Progesterone production ramps up during pregnancy, and while this is a good thing for your baby (low progesterone causes tons of problems), it can make things just a bit uncomfortable for you. Tender breasts and general achiness can make it hard to settle down for sleep at night.
So much pee.
When I’m pregnant, I always make sure I know where the restroom is when I enter a building. And wouldn’t you know–your body doesn’t just stop producing urine while you sleep.
By now you may have learned that “morning sickness” is a cruel misnomer. You may find that bedtime nausea keeps you from sleeping well.
Up to 50% of women experience heartburn during pregnancy, and it usually gets worse at night.
The changes in hormones during pregnancy can make you feel like you have a bad head cold. When it’s hard to breathe, it’s hard to sleep.
Pregnancy dreams are weird, and so vivid. When I was pregnant with my son, I dreamed that I gave birth to a bulldog that we named John Alexander.
That one, at least, was funny. Some dreams can be downright unsettling and make it hard to go back to sleep when you wake up in the night.
Ah, one of the most beautiful parts of pregnancy–feeling your little one moving in your womb.
But don’t be surprised if baby is ready to play when you’re ready to sleep. Your movements during the day will tend to lull them to sleep.
And nighttime is party time!
Restless legs and leg cramps
Irresistible urge to move your legs at night? You can thank pregnancy for that one. It’s also common to get cramps in your leg muscles during pregnancy.
Hello, old friend! We’re back to the potty as the baby gets bigger and your bladder gets, well, smaller to compensate.
Your growing baby is putting more pressure on your back, shoulders, and hips. The resulting discomfort may keep you up at night.
As you get closer to your baby’s arrival, your body starts preparing by producing relaxin, a hormone that loosens up your pelvic ligaments to make room for baby. That loosening can make things a bit uncomfortable.
How to get better sleep while pregnant
How can you get a decent night of sleep during pregnancy? You’ve got a lot fighting against you, but good sleep is not completely out of reach. Here are some tips for getting better sleep while pregnant.
1. Watch your caffeine intake
I know. I love coffee too.
A cup or two early on in the day is perfectly fine (unless it gives you heartburn!), but avoid it later on.
Drinking caffeine in the afternoon (and that goes for caffeinated soda and tea too) can keep you from getting a good night’s sleep.
2. Practice power naps
If you’re able, a short nap in the middle of the day may be just what you need to get through until bedtime. When I was pregnant with my second child, I was fortunate that my 2 year old could entertain himself for a few minutes.
Those 15 minutes or so were just long enough for a power nap. The naps kept me from getting overly exhausted but weren’t so long that they kept me from falling asleep at night.
3. Watch what you eat before bed
Eating protein in the evening can help keep you from waking up hungry. (Peanut butter is usually my go-to pregnancy bedtime snack.) And limiting spicy foods later in the day can help keep heartburn at bay.
4. Don’t sleep with your phone
Bedtime device use can wake up your brain and keep you from falling asleep. Bad news or social media can cause anxiety that keeps your brain from settling down enough for you to relax.
And alerts in the middle of the night (or the temptation to check your phone when you wake up in the night) are a recipe for interrupted sleep. Try making your bedroom a no-phone zone.
5. Limit fluids in the evening
You want to make sure you drink plenty of water since it can help prevent those nasty leg cramps. But be sure to cut off your water intake a few hours before bed.
The emptier your bladder is overnight, the less frequently you’ll need to get up to pee.
6. Exercise in the morning
Exercise can help you sleep better and prepare your body for childbirth. It’s best to do it early in the day so that the endorphin high doesn’t keep you awake when it’s time to settle down.
7. Use a pregnancy pillow
The safest way to sleep while you’re pregnant is on your side (left, if possible, but right is OK too). Ideally, put a pillow between your legs for better spine alignment and reduced discomfort.
I’m a side sleeper, and I use the pillow between my legs even when I’m not pregnant. If you’re not naturally a side sleeper or the extra belly weight is just uncomfortable, try using a specially designed pregnancy pillow.
This one gets rave reviews from the moms in one of my favorite Facebook groups.
8. Consider a better mattress
My husband and I bought our first mattress 9 years ago right before our wedding. It was cheap, but it was what we could afford as newlyweds, and we made it last for the next 9 years.
Now, though, there are so many good mattresses on the market that won’t break the bank. After 9 years we finally decided it was time for a new one.
We checked out the Purple and almost got one… But my husband was having some bad neck pain and we needed it sooner rather than later.
We ended up with a Casper because we could get it from Target. It’s also supposed to be better than the Purple for side sleepers. Hurray for pregnancy side sleeping!
If you have an old mattress too, you might find that you’ll sleep more comfortably and wake up less achy in the morning with a new mattress.
9. Establish a bedtime routine
When I’m teaching my babies to sleep through the night, I establish a bedtime routine so that they know it’s time to start winding down for bed. Similar cues can work for adults, too.
Some relaxing activities you might consider including in your bedtime routine:
- reading a book
- a warm bath
- anything else that helps you relax and wind down for the night
10. Turn down the temperature
When we sleep, our body temperature drops. Having a cool room can help you fall asleep and stay asleep, especially during pregnancy when you’re already running at a slightly higher temperature than normal.
Sleep.org recommends setting your thermostat between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal sleep.
11. Take your supplements
You’ll want to stay away from sleep aids, but there are a variety of vitamins and minerals that can help you sleep better while pregnant.
- Magnesium can help prevent leg cramps and also calms your brain. As a bonus, it’s quite effective for keeping your digestion moving along… something we all need during pregnancy!
- Iron and folate are effective for combating restless leg syndrome. (And folate, of course, helps prevent defects in your growing baby.)
- Red raspberry leaf tea can have a relaxing effect on the body and also helps tone the uterus for faster and easier delivery.
12. Try essential oils
You have to be careful with essential oils during pregnancy since some of them can cause contractions, but a few calming oils are safe.
Try diffusing lavender, Roman chamomile, frankincense, and ylang ylang for a soothing bedtime atmosphere. And save this post for more essential oils for sleep.
13. Find a chiropractor
If back, shoulder, or neck pain are keeping you awake, I highly recommend finding a Webster-certified chiropractor. The Webster technique is gentle and safe for pregnant women and can help your baby get into the optimal position for childbirth.
I’ve used a chiropractor during both of my full-term pregnancies, and it’s made a world of difference in my comfort.
14. Switch Up Your Sleepwear
When I’m pregnant I end up sleeping most night in one of my husband’s undershirts. They are soft, thin, and lightweight cotton, so they’re super comfy and cool for sleeping when I’m huge and uncomfortably hot.
If your partner doesn’t have comfy shirts he’s willing to share, make sure you’re sleeping in at least 90% cotton. It’s the best for keeping cool.
Something like this nightgown would be perfect and also works great for nighttime nursing after the baby is born.
Pregnancy Sleep is Not a Myth
Yes, it’s possible to get a good night of sleep while you’re growing a human. It may take a little more planning, but paying attention to those few small details can make a world of difference.
Here’s to you and your sleep–both now and in the adventure-filled years to come!
Found these pregnancy sleep tips helpful? Make sure you save to Pinterest so you can come back to them later!