My first pregnancy was a beautiful and exciting time in my life and few words can describe the incredible emotions I went through those awesome nine months. Though the thrill of hearing your child’s heart beat for the first time and experiencing the first kicks is great, pregnancy is not a breeze, and I have to admit that even if every discomfort was worth it, some of the ‘side effects’ of pregnancy have taken me completely by surprise. ( l occasionally like to use side effects instead of symptoms because the term pregnancy symptoms makes me feel like pregnancy is a disease – which is definitely not the case!)
One of these ‘side effects’ was definitely insomnia. Since I have always been a good sleeper, I underestimated the importance of sleep until I got pregnant with my first child and I was suddenly spending nights staring at the ceiling. It was a nerve wrecking and frustrating experience and I hated every minute of it. Luckily the situation improved once the baby was born, but the memory of the nights spent tossing pillows and fighting heartburn still gives me chills.
When I researched this topic I discovered that insomnia seems to be an impressively common condition associated with pregnancy. In a poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), nearly 8 out of 10 women reported having disturbed sleep during their pregnancy and the problem become more prevalent as pregnancy progresses.
What causes Insomnia?
Dr. Jill Powell, assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health at St. Louis University School of Medicine, associates sleep problems during the first trimester with the progesterone hormone that peaks at this time. According to Dr Powell ,”Progesterone is a natural sedative, and a woman may be so tired she has this sensation of not being able to keep her eyes open. She may react by napping during the day or falling asleep on the couch after work. This then gets her out of her normal sleep patterns.”*1
In addition to hormonal changes, the growing uterus puts pressure on the bladder. When you have to wake up to go to pee every couple of hours , the normal sleep pattern is broken and it becomes more difficult to get back to sleep. Other symptoms associated with the first trimester such as gas and bloating make also make it more difficult to sleep comfortably. Apart from minor physical aliments, pregnancy is a roller coaster of emotions for a new mom and thoughts about the impending changes in your life and the health of your unborn child are often major causes of insomnia.
Luckily studies show that in most cases, as pregnancy advances into the second trimester and the mother becomes more adjusted to the pregnancy, sleep improves for some months. However in the third trimester the growing abdomen, leg cramps, heartburn, frequent urination and increased levels of excitement as child birth approaches, all contribute to sleepless nights spent tossing in bed.
According to Dr Powell, as the third trimester progresses there’s more pressure on the lungs creating extra fatigue and making it more difficult to sleep. “The cause for virtually all of the sleep disturbances at this phase,” Dr Powell says, “can be traced to the increase in size of the abdomen and the discomfort associated with the advancing pregnancy.”
As every parent knows, long restful hours of sleep during your the third trimester can be crucial to your mental sanity, since once your baby is born you can forget sleeping through the night for weeks. So what should a pregnant mother do in order to recover precious zzz’s?
Simple cures for insomnia
Pregnancy today reports the advice of Dr. Ken Sassower a staff neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital working in the sleep disorders unit, who argues that the most important thing for a pregnant woman to ensure good sleep is to maintain good sleep hygiene.*1
This means avoiding caffeine, alcohol, tobacco and spicy foods, getting regular exercise and establishing a sleep routine where the mother -to-be goes to bed at the same time each day and does not read or watch TV in bed.
But what if you have no problem falling asleep but have to wake up every hour or so, because of leg cramps, need to pee, heartburn, general discomfort and last by not least the increased load of worry, stress and anxiety?
The increased need to visit the bathroom is one of the most common sleep disturbances during pregnancy. As the uterus presses on to your bladder, the need to pee every couple of hours disrupts your sleep pattern and makes it impossible to enjoy a good night’s rest. The best way to alleviate this problem is by stopping your self from drinking any fluids at least a couple of hours before going to bed and making it part of your night routine to pee before going to bed.
As your little one grows and your organs are compressed by your uterus, acid reflux or heart burn, becomes an issue especially if you are lying down and trying to fall asleep.The doctor will prescribe an anti-acid which is considered safe during pregnancy but a natural remedy that has been proven as effective is eating a slice of plain white bread or drinking a glass of milk in order to neutralize the acid. Other alternatives that work are eliminating spicy food, sodas such as coke or orangeade, and citrus fruits from your diet .
Cramps, tired legs and general discomfort
As your body has to adjust to the additional demands of your growing pregnancy, minor ailments such as gas or constipation, tired cramping legs, an aching back and a general feeling of discomfort usually make it impossible to feel comfortable in your own bed , even though you feel exhausted.
Surprisingly the easiest way to sleep better is by getting busy during the day. In many cases gentle exercise should not only increase your stamina but help you sleep better at night. Walking, swimming and doing prenatal yoga poses all help to increase your sense of well being by stimulating your circulation and helping your aching muscles, especially your back and legs. A relaxed swim is one of the best exercises since the water takes the weight of your legs but walking and prenatal yoga are excellent alternatives since they are considered gentle enough to be performed throughout the entire pregnancy.
Having to adjust to a new sleep position.
Back and tummy sleepers often have a hard time trying to adjust to side sleeping, but this does not mean that side sleepers are guaranteed a peaceful rest throughout the night. Once the pregnancy advances, your changing body often makes it so cumbersome to move in your bed that you just cannot sleep .Try using a whole body pillow and putting a pillow between your legs and one under your belly to support the growing uterus in order to sleep better.
Techniques to reduce anxiety and stress.
Make a bedtime routine
Pregnancy is extremely taxing both on your body and your mind, and sleep should be seen as an essential part of taking care of yourself and your baby.
• Take a few minutes every day to have a warm relaxing bath or shower before you go to bed in order to unwind after a hard day.
• Make your bedroom as comfortable and serene as possible – block out excessive noise or light and reduce clutter that makes you think about day time unfinished business.
• Don’t work or eat in bed and try to refrain from reading stimulating books or watching TV late at night.
• Drink a warm glass of milk or take chamomile tea. No coffee or any other drink with caffeine.
• Try to sleep always at the same time as this helps your body learn to sleep when the time comes.
Take control of your anxiety by actively dealing with our problems during the day rather than worrying about them at night. If a set of problems or unresolved issues are keeping you awake, take time to jot down what you are feeling on paper. Journaling is an effective way of externalizing your emotions in a constructive way .
Take the lid off
If there is a problem that is causing you anxiety speak to someone who can understand what you are going through and possibly help you dealing with it. Keeping fear and emotions bottled up will only make you more uncomfortable.
Learning to meditate and focus on your breathing can be an effective way to help you unwind and fall asleep. A simple way to do this is by finding a comfortable position in your bed and then close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Put your hand on your stomach in order to physically feel your body taking in and let out air and focus on your breathing. Visualize yourself in a quiet place by sea or in a meadow and try to relax and not to think about your day.
Click here and here for more yoga poses that can be used throughout pregnancy in order to relieve stress and anxiety.
“Treatment of insomnia during pregnancy ” Harvard Medical School website – womensmentalhealth.com
“Insomnia during pregnancy” American pregnancy association website – american pregnancy.com
” Sleep problems during pregnancy” – babycentre.com
*1 “Insomnia during pregnancy” by Kelly Burgess – pregnancytoday.com
“Insomnia during pregnancy” – womenshealthcaretopics.com
“The truth about pregnancy insomnia.” – relaxinsomnia.com