“Get your sleep now! You’ll need it once the baby comes…” If you’ve heard this gem during your pregnancy, you have our permission to roll your eyes.
While you can’t stockpile sleep the way you can diapers or onesies, there’s no doubt that getting adequate sleep during pregnancy is vital to your baby’s and your own health. Pregnancy ramps up the need for sleep like few other periods in a woman’s adult life. Think about it: Your body is in overdrive doing the important work of, you know, growing a baby. Your heart is working harder to pump all the extra blood through two bodies, and your kidneys and other organs are also on high alert. Add to that—especially in the first trimester—a surge in the hormone progesterone, which triggers fatigue, and it’s no wonder you’re craving a lie-down.
Getting decent sleep throughout your pregnancy may also have an impact on your labor and delivery experience. A 2011 study in the Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology found that women who’d consistently gotten six (rather than an ideal eight-plus) hours of sleep per night in pregnancy experienced longer labors and were more likely to have a C-section.
To Sleep, Perchance…
Okay, so you need to sleep for two… but can you manage it? As tired as you may be, just being pregnant can make it tougher to get your rest. Here’s what may be conspiring against your need to sleep:
- Progesterone. The same early-pregnancy hormone that, in part, triggers daytime sleepiness, may also cause fractured nighttime sleep. Later in pregnancy, levels of oxytocin (the hormone that gooses uterine contractions in preparation for labor) rise, and may interfere with nighttime rest.
- Tummy trouble. Nausea, morning sickness (which doesn’t always confine itself to morning), heartburn, and indigestion can all make lying down uncomfortable, interfering with sleep.
- Sleep disorders. Even if you never had such sleep issues as restless leg syndrome or obstructive sleep apnea, you may find they crop up when you’re pregnant, further keeping you from a good night’s rest.
- Growing girth. No way around it, your expanding midsection will make it tougher to settle in comfortably. As your uterus grows and presses on other pelvic organs, you can expect to hit the bathroom at least once or twice per night.
- Good old worry. Pregnancy can be a psychologically stressful time for some moms-to-be. Your worries (about everything from childbirth to college) may have you staring at the ceiling more frequently as the weeks go on.
How to Rest Easier
Beyond the usual good sleep hygiene rules, such as keeping consistent bedtimes, banning technology from the bedroom, and keeping your room cool and dark, here are some pregnancy sleep tips to try:
- Get in bed. You may not be able always to snooze for a nonstop eight hours, but try to arrange your schedule so that you’re at least in bed and as comfy as possible for that number of hours to up your chances. (That may mean hitting the sheets earlier with a book rather than staying up and organizing baby stuff or decorating the nursery—we see you!)
- Feather the nest. Getting harder to settle in as your belly grows? Experiment with different pillows, such as a body pillow to cuddle and another at your back for support. Still another pillow between your knees can help keep your hips aligned. You might feel warmer at night now (thanks to increased blood volume), so adjust your bedclothes and room temp accordingly.
- Think positioning. Although left-side sleeping is doctor-recommended as it improves circulation, you may want to switch sides to alleviate aches. You might also want to keep your upper body slightly elevated, especially if you suffer from heartburn, another common sleep-interrupter.
- Think before you drink (water). Of course, you should not limit your water intake during the day—you need, in fact, to boost hydration when pregnant. But don’t gulp a big glass of water in a couple of hours before bed to limit at least some of your nocturnal toilet visits. And get a nightlight for the bathroom so that you don’t feel compelled to turn on overhead lights.
- Rely on naps. As long as a well-timed nap during the day won’t interfere with sleep at night, these short rests can be a great way to recharge and refresh.
- Get moving. Get some exercise during the day, which will help you feel more "wound down" and tired at night. (If possible, it's best not to do anything that raises your heart rate in the early evening.)
- Treat yourself. A prenatal massage (either professionally or via a willing partner), a warm bath, a cozy new nightgown or pretty sheets… do whatever you can to promote peace, calm, relaxation, and… zzzzzz.