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Better Sleeping for Two – Pregnancy and Sleep

  sleep tips health sleep trouble
Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Being pregnant can be a wonderful, magical time, but for most women it is not without at least a few symptoms that are less than magical. One notoriously irritating symptom is poor sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation's Women and Sleep poll, 78% of women report more disturbed sleep during pregnancy than at other times. Hormonal and physical changes and limitations can lead to sore hips, back pain, heartburn, restless legs, and insomnia. To get the best sleep while pregnant, here are a few tips to help.

Sleep on the left side and/or at an incline to help ease heartburn. According to the American Pregnancy Association:

Heartburn occurs when the valve between the stomach and the food pipe (esophagus) are unable to prevent the stomach acids from passing back into the esophagus. Pregnancy can increase the frequency of heartburn because the hormone progesterone causes the valve to relax. This allows the stomach acid to pass into the esophagus and irritate the lining.

Some women experience such severe heartburn that they resort to sleeping in a reclining chair. This is less than ideal for many reasons! Your doctor may have suggestions on how to treat your heartburn with prescriptions or over the counter medication, but sleeping on an incline and on your left side can also help stomach acid stay down and give you some better Z’s. Also, avoid spicy food, late meals, and midnight snacks which can make heartburn worse.

Use a body pillow. There are several brands of body pillow made specifically for pregnancy (including the popular Snoogle, and Boppy maternity pillows), but even a basic, long body pillow can help. The purpose is to ease hip and knee pain by going between your knees, under your belly to support your back, and to give you something to wrap your arms around if you prefer. You might find that this becomes a habit for comfortable sleep even after having the baby.

Keep cool. Hormonal changes can make a normally chilly sleeper into a total furnace regardless of the time of year. According to a 2010 study from the University of Pennsylvania, hot flashes affect more than half of pregnant women. The hormone to blame is primarily estrogen, which tends to soar during pregnancy.

To sleep cooler, wear lightweight materials and use a lighter blanket. Consider sleeping with a fan (some people also like the white noise a fan creates). If you’re normally a hot sleeper, visit a Jonathan Stevens store to try a Cool-Gel memory foam mattress specially made to give you a cooler night.

Pregnant and sleeping for twoTry not to worry. Pregnancy can cause a lot of stress as you consider the future and wonder how your family will adapt. Anxiety and depression are common during pregnancy, and should be discussed with your doctor. If you’re simply trying to wind down and stop worrying so that you can get better sleep, try getting your thoughts out. Write down your thoughts at night or talk to someone about your concerns. Discussing your worries with someone who understands can help ease your mind, and make the transition to sleep easier.

Treat pain. According to Parents magazine, you can also try a warm shower before lying down. Their expert, Kellie Flood-Shaffer, M.D., associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Texas Tech Health Sciences Center, in Lubbock, Texas, suggests treating nighttime aches with acetaminophen, which is considered safe during pregnancy.

The National Sleep Foundation also suggests:

  • Drinking lots of water, but not too much before bed
  • Getting screened for sleep apnea if snoring and paused breathing occur
  • Talking to your doctor if you believe you’re experiencing Restless Legs Syndrome
  • Get out of bed if you can’t sleep, do something relaxing, and try again
  • Use a nightlight in the bathroom instead of turning on the light, which can be too arousing and cause you to wake up more during bathroom breaks
  • Nap during the day if you need to, but make sure naps are early and brief so they don’t prevent nighttime sleep

Why is it especially important to get good sleep during pregnancy? Poor sleep has been linked to negative outcomes for birth and mood in pregnant and new mothers. A study found in the November 1 issue of the journal SLEEP (2011) found a link between risk for preterm birth in women who had sleep disruptions during their first and third trimesters. “This supports the growing evidence that poor sleep is an important risk factor for preterm birth,” said Michele Okun, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Learn more from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Plus, University of California at San Francisco researchers found that women who slept fewer than 6 hours per night had longer labors and were 4.5 times more likely to have cesarean deliveries.

It’s important to get plenty of rest and to give some extra time for sleep, especially if you’re frequently getting up during the night. Relax and enjoy preparing for your family’s new addition!


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