Why Sleeping Is So Hard During Pregnancy—Plus, How to Sleep Better


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how to sleep better during pregnancy"
how to sleep better during pregnancy
Source: Canva
Source: Canva

It’s not a secret that new moms don’t get a lot of sleep, but why does no one ever talk about how hard it is to sleep while pregnant? Sure, you hear the occasional complaint about the final few weeks being uncomfortable and midnight bathroom breaks, but sleep issues during pregnancy can start on day one. And many pregnant moms are likely Googling how to get better sleep during pregnancy.

I am in my third trimester and have found that despite being tired all the time, I haven’t slept through the night once since being pregnant. However—I have done a lot of research and reached out to sleep experts to learn how I can improve my sleep, and I can tell you better sleep is possible. 

As many as 80 percent of pregnant women experience poor sleep, so I know I’m not alone in my mission to get more shut-eye before my bundle of joy arrives. With input from some pregnancy experts, let’s take a look at why sleeping well during pregnancy can be so challenging and how to sleep better.

Reason #1: Hormonal Shifts

Insomnia early in pregnancy can be confusing. How can you struggle not to fall asleep at your desk but then lie awake in bed at night? Rapid changes in reproductive hormones are to blame during the first trimester.  “Growing a human is an extraordinary process, yet despite how amazing this physiological triumph is, it still comes with its challenges, including sleep disturbances,” Dr. Danielle Wright-Terrell, founder of HONEY Coaching, explained, “One of the biggest reasons for sleep disturbances is body changes.”

Because there isn’t much you can do about natural and necessary hormonal shifts, it’s important to create a soothing sleep environment.

Tips for Creating a Soothing Sleep Environment During Pregnancy

Dr. Wright-Terrell recommends incorporating the following tips into your pre-bedtime routine:

  • Set a wind-down time one to two hours before bed and try not to have dinner within this period
  • Partake in calming exercises like a warm shower or bath with some soothing music or aromatherapy
  • Read a book instead of opting for screen time

I found that turning off screens and listening to an audiobook in a dim room helped me wind down, especially when I filled the room with a soothing scent. I turned to the Pura Wild Mint & Eucalyptus by NEST New York and Lavande by Archipelago scents to create a relaxing environment all night long. As a bonus, these diffuser scents helped hide any unpleasant scents that could make me feel nauseous (my neighbors cook very fragrant food at 9 o’clock sharp every night). I also loved adding these BOOTLEG BATH Shower Steamers in calming lavender mint to make the best part of my day even more relaxing. 

how to sleep better during pregnancy
Source: Newton Baby

Reason #2: Heartburn

Hormonal changes rear their ugly head again right at bedtime to plague you with heartburn. Pregnant women experience more heartburn when they lay down, which is why it can be so distracting while you’re trying to sleep. I even wake up in the middle of the night experiencing it. Stock up on TUMS—these little tablets can provide almost immediate relief. Keep them by your bedside at all times—they are pregnancy-safe and even give you some extra calcium, which can be helpful for mom and baby.

It’s also recommended that you don’t lie down flat on your back to help avoid stomach acid from coming up while you sleep. If possible, prop your head and shoulders up and sleep on your left side to help minimize heartburn.

Reason #3: Restless Legs Syndrome

Restless legs syndrome is fairly common in the third trimester, and the discomfort it causes can make it hard to fall asleep. “Its cause isn’t known but likely is due to physiological and hormonal changes of pregnancy,” said Dr. Wright-Terrell.

“To cope, it is recommended to partake in activities that can calm the nervous system such as meditation, breath work, yoga, aromatherapy, relaxing music—you get the idea,” said Dr. Wright-Terrell. “In addition, maintaining a balanced diet and staying hydrated can help as well.” 

Dr. Shelby Harris, Director of Sleep Health at Sleepopolis, also shared her tips for getting relief from restless legs syndrome—getting regular exercise, taking a warm bath, leg massages, and making sure their iron levels are normal by taking supplements if needed. “Try your best to avoid triggers like caffeine, establish and stick with a calming bedtime routine, experiment with different sleeping positions to see what is most comfortable, and talk to your doctor for personalized advice,” Dr. Harris advised. 

I struggled a lot with restless legs syndrome at night as I entered my third trimester, and I am happy to report the symptoms are now under control most nights. While it can be hard to pinpoint exactly which efforts helped improve my restless legs syndrome, these are the changes I made:

how to get better sleep during pregnancy
Source: SHVETS Production | Pexels

Reason #4: Bathroom Breaks

To drink or not to drink water—that is the eternal question all pregnant women ask themselves leading up to bedtime. Thank you hormone changes and added pressure on the bladder. Once I started waking up to use the restroom every one to three hours, I considered setting a cutoff for drinking water before bed, but that seemed risky since you’re more prone to dehydration while pregnant.

According to Dr. Harris, deprivation is not the best move. “While pregnant women need more frequent bathroom breaks throughout the night, it’s also important to make sure you’re staying hydrated,” Dr. Harris explained, “Instead of trying to avoid these bathroom breaks, try creative strategies like front-loading fluids in the morning and earlier in the day, limiting any caffeine after around 2 p.m., and emptying your bladder before getting into bed at night to help this and stay hydrated.”

But Don’t “Hold It”

As tempting as it can be to try to go back to sleep instead of getting up again to answer nature’s call, Dr. Wright-Terrell advises against doing this. “Please do not avoid bathroom breaks,” Dr. Wright-Terrell urged, “The bladder just has less room to expand. Try to get your 60 ounces in during the day. If possible, just try to get the bulk of this done three to four hours before bedtime.”

Reason #5: A Growing and Kicking Baby

The first time you feel your baby move or notice your bump starting to grow are magical moments, but after a few months things feel a lot less magical when a growing baby makes it hard to sleep. Between kicks, feet lodged in your ribs, and trying to get comfortable with a big bump in the way, baby can make it hard to sleep.

One way to cope with discomfort during the night caused by your growing bundle of joy is to get a pregnancy pillow. These pillows can help you gain extra support for your bump or can help you lift pressure off your hips and back. Many women swear by the full-body pillows, but I never use mine and wished I’d gotten one of these simpler wedge-style pregnancy pillows instead.

Luckily, my husband is a good sport and lets me use him as a human body pillow when I can’t get comfortable. I do have to be careful though, because too much attention from dad gets my baby excited and he starts kicking like crazy, which can make it hard to sleep. If he won’t settle down, I’ll either pace around a bit or go rock in our glider until he lulls back to sleep. When he is insistent on having a little midnight party no matter what I do, I try to take comfort in the fact that the movements mean he is strong and healthy.

More Pregnancy Sleep Tips and Tricks

It can take quite a bit of trial and error to find what methods help you improve your sleep during pregnancy. For example, some supplements may help other pregnant women more than others. Dr. Harris recommends asking your doctor about taking magnesium, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B6, or iron—all of which can potentially improve your sleep during pregnancy. “You can also try to get these nutrients from having a well-balanced diet, but you can think about starting supplements if needed under the guidance of your doctor,” Dr. Harris noted.

Dr. Harris also recommended creating a comfortable and cool sleep environment. I found that turning on the heat during the winter would result in me waking up hot and dehydrated a few hours into sleep. I turned to these breathable Baloo Stonewashed Linen Sheets and the Muslin Comfort The Extra Warm Blanket so I could stay warm while falling asleep, but take layers on and off as needed if I got hot in the night. 

After trying many of Dr. Harris’s and Dr. Wright-Terrell’s (as well as my own doctor’s) tips for getting better sleep, I can happily report I am falling asleep faster and staying asleep for longer periods. At this point in my pregnancy, I know I can’t expect perfect sleep, but I’ll take any extra shut-eye I can get. 

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