The Importance of Sleep
You may find that you’re struggling to get good quality sleep during your pregnancy. This can be caused by a wide range of things and leave us feeling like a restful night’s sleep is a thing of fairytales. Sleep is extremely important during pregnancy as this is the time when our body restores and repairs itself. Good sleep improves memory, brain function, immunity and blood flow. It’s your body’s time to take stock of anything that may not be working at its best and take steps to improve it. Sleep is a top priority to give yourself the best chance at a happy and healthy pregnancy. A study carried out by the National Sleep Foundation found that 78% of pregnant women have significant problems getting a good night’s sleep during pregnancy. With this in mind, we’re going to discuss why you’re not sleeping, and how to fix it.
What keeps you up at night?
Insomnia? Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder in the world, it’s estimated that about 6% of the population experience Insomnia. Symptoms include struggling to fall asleep, struggling to maintain sleep and waking extremely early in the mornings, unable to fall back asleep. During pregnancy, we’re more likely to experience Insomnia because of hormonal changes. However, sometimes anxious feelings can be the cause of Insomnia, worries about labour, delivery or parenthood may be weighing heavy on your mind and making it difficult to relax. You may not even realise how much you have been worrying subconsciously. Talk to a loved one about your worries and ask plenty of questions at your doctor’s visits, being more informed may ease your mind and help you sleep.
Restless Leg Syndrome? This condition presents as sensations in the legs such as cramping, itching, aching, burning, creeping, or pulling while your legs are resting. This can be caused by hormonal changes, or triggered by certain foods. Talk to your doctor if you consistently experience restless legs, as it can be a sign of anaemia. Restless Leg Syndrome usually disappears within one month after the baby’s birth.
Leg Cramps? These are intense muscle pains usually in the calf or foot. Doctors aren’t sure exactly what causes them but tend to blame them on hormonal fluctuations. Leg cramps can improve with calcium or magnesium supplements, talk to your doctor to see if these supplements might help you get a good night’s sleep.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea? This is when your airways become blocked while you sleep, causing you to wake up as you are having trouble taking in oxygen. The obstruction is caused by fatty tissue around your airways, so weight gain during pregnancy increases the chances of developing this sleep condition. Heavy snoring is the most noticeable sign of sleep apnea. You can ask someone to tell you if you snore excessively (usually your partner will have already told you) and ask someone to keep an eye on your breathing while you sleep to see if your breathing stops for periods of time and if so, ask them to time how long you’re not breathing. Visit your doctor straight away if you think you have sleep apnea, as you and your baby are not getting adequate oxygen while you’re not breathing.
Heartburn? We’ve all heard the old wives tale “heartburn in pregnancy means your baby has lots of hair”, well if that’s the case you may be picturing your baby being born with long flowing locks. Heartburn in pregnancy is caused by your digestive system slowing down during pregnancy and your uterus pushing your stomach upwards, making it easy for stomach acid to enter your oesophagus. Lying down makes this worse, so the pain disrupts your sleep.
Frequent Urination? Your kidneys are working hard during pregnancy, filtering waste from both you and the baby and this causes your bladder to fill up more frequently. Your growing uterus is pushing on your bladder making it difficult to hold onto as much urine as you usually would. Frequent strong urges to pee disrupt your sleep and leave you feeling exhausted by the nighttime routine of going to the bathroom, coming back to bed, finally getting comfortable, then getting the urge to pee again!
Tips for better sleep
So we have a lot of things working against us in our quest for a good night’s sleep, however, we can still achieve good sleep if we make it a priority and take steps to alleviate the issues that are keeping us awake.
1. maintain a regular sleep/wake cycle
Our bodies thrive on consistency, so choosing a bedtime and a wake-up time really helps our sleep cycles. Doctors recommend at least 7 hours of sleep per night during pregnancy. Once you factor in bathroom breaks and pillow adjustments, your sleep/wake cycle should be an 8-hour window. So, you might decide to be in bed by 11 pm, and set your alarm to wake at 7 am. After a while, your body will naturally adjust to getting sleepy around 11 pm and waking up, even without the alarm, at 7 am.
2. Get a bedtime routine
About an hour before your chosen bedtime, begin your bedtime routine. This time is intended to signal to your body that it is time to wind down. You could have a warm shower, read a book or meditate to relax. Having a snack such as crackers or wholegrain cereal can help as carbs have sleep-inducing compounds. Avoid phones, tablets and laptops as the screens reduce your levels of the sleep hormone melatonin. Use the Night Mode setting on your phone whenever you use it in the evenings to block out the blue light which disrupts our natural sleep rhythms.
3. Sleeping Position
Doctors recommend you sleep on your left side during pregnancy to maximise blood flow to the placenta, uterus and kidneys. Sleeping on your right side is fine too but doesn’t have as much blood flow benefits as the left side, due to how our arteries are positioned.
Sleeping on your back for extended periods of time is not recommended. Lying flat on your back causes your uterus to put pressure on your main blood vessels along your spine, making it difficult for fresh oxygen-rich blood to get to your baby. This may cause dizziness, shortness of breath, rapid breathing and elevated heart rate. It can also contribute to digestive discomfort and haemorrhoids. If you wake up laying on your back, don’t worry, just turn onto your side and go back to sleep.
Everyone who ever teased you about your excessive collection of decorative pillows is about to be proven wrong. Utilise pillows of all shapes and sizes to achieve maximum comfort. Use a firm pillow between your knees to align your spine correctly and avoid hip discomfort. Use an extra pillow under your head to prop you up and help with heartburn and shortness of breath. Put your feet up on pillows to reduce swelling in your ankles. The possibilities are endless. If none of your pillows are helping, try a pregnancy pillow. These come in lots of shapes, sizes and levels of complexity so there’s definitely something out there to suit your needs.
5. Keep A Food Diary
Keeping track of what foods you eat can help you to pinpoint which foods are giving you heartburn and which foods are getting your baby excited and energetic while you’re trying to wind down. Avoid caffeine, sugar, fried foods, spicy foods and acidic foods like tomatoes in the evening time to give yourself the best chance for a good sleep.
6. Sleep Hygiene
I don’t mean your bed is dirty, but if it is, that should probably be first on your agenda. Sleep Hygiene is the term given to maintaining a good sleep environment. It involves keeping your sleep schedule, making your bedroom a quiet, dark and relaxing place without screens and distractions. Keeping your bedroom at a cool temperature can help you regulate your body temperature and avoid night sweats.
7. Fewer Fluids In The Evenings
Staying hydrated is very important, but to promote better sleep and fewer bathroom trips, drink most of your daily water before 6 pm. This gives you a chance to process a lot of your water before you go to bed.
8. Don’t Obsess About It
When we struggle to fall asleep we can become very stressed about it. Looking at the clock and thinking “even if I fall asleep right now I’ll still only get 4 hours of sleep!” sleep cannot be forced. If you do not feel sleepy, then get out of bed, go to your couch and relax there. Use this time as me-time. Sit, relax and picture your baby sleeping soundly in your belly. Once you begin to relax you will feel sleepy and then you return to bed.
Take every opportunity to nap during the day. A 20-30 minute nap is the perfect way to catch up on sleep lost during the night. Also, knowing you have multiple opportunities to sleep rather than just one nighttime window of opportunity takes some of the pressure off.
9. Ask For Help
If any of the previous tips made you think “how am I going to find time to do that? I’m so busy, I have other children!” then you should consider asking for more help. Ask friends and family to help in any way they can, explain to them that you are prioritising your sleep in order to have a happier and healthier pregnancy. If you have other children, explain to them that you need more rest than usual at the moment so they understand why you might want them to cuddle up and watch a film with you rather than playing Hide and Seek!
If you are struggling with getting enough rest, regardless of what steps you take, talk to your doctor. They can advise you on possible medical reasons that may be hindering your sleep.
We hope you enjoyed this blog post about sleep and you can use these tips to achieve better sleep during pregnancy and beyond. Prioritising your health is vital for your baby’s health and happiness, not just during your pregnancy but throughout their whole lives.
Share your own sleep tips in our Facebook Group – UltraScan’s Mums. It’s a space to have fun, connect with other mammies and ask questions to parents who are just like you!