It can be hard to sleep when you are pregnant. Physical discomfort, such as cramps and heartburn, may interfere with rest. Some pregnant women develop sleep disorders, such as restless legs syndrome or sleep apnea, for the first time in their lives. If you struggle to sleep during pregnancy, you might desperately ask yourself how to sleep better. Fortunately, there are guidelines that might help you to improve your sleep while you are pregnant. By incorporating simple diet changes, a regular schedule, and exercise, you may soon find you sleep and feel better.
Diet Changes to Sleep Better in Pregnancy
You know that it is important to eat a balanced diet for the health of your developing baby. You may not know that this, in turn, can help you to sleep better. By including important minerals and vitamins in your diet, you can reduce the likelihood of developing leg cramps or restless legs syndrome.
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is most commonly associated with low levels of iron. This may be more common among women who do not eat red meat, especially those who adhere to a strict vegan diet. Iron is best absorbed when you have adequate levels of vitamin C. Deficiencies in magnesium, potassium, or calcium may also be problematic. It may be helpful to take a prenatal folate or multivitamin supplement, under the guidance of your Ob-Gyn doctor.
Pregnant woman who experience heartburn or gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD), may need to further modify their diet to reduce these uncomfortable symptoms. It can be helpful to avoid caffeine as well as spicy, acidic, and fried foods. In addition, it may be necessary to eat multiple small meals during the day and avoid meals too close to bedtime.
Although women are advised to drink an adequate amount of fluids during pregnancy, the timing may be important. If too much liquid is consumed close to bedtime, it may lead to disruptive trips to the bathroom during the night. This condition, nocturia, can be improved by reducing intake in the hours before going to sleep. (If you do get up to pee, use a nightlight in the bathroom because it will wake you less than an overhead lamp.)
In addition, it is important for women to maintain a healthy weight during pregnancy. Excessive weight may contribute to breathing disruptions during sleep such as obstructive sleep apnea. Regular check-ups with your doctor will help you track your weight gain.
Managing Behaviors Surrounding Sleep in Pregnancy
There are certain recommendations that are good for everyone, including pregnant women. Many of these tips are helpful to enforce the natural pattern of sleep called the circadian rhythm. For women suffering from insomnia, these guidelines can be especially important.
The most important consideration is to keep a regular sleep-wake schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including weekends. Make your sleep a priority, for the health of yourself and your developing baby. If you find that you have excessive daytime sleepiness, you may even begin to incorporate naps into your schedule. This is a common and natural accommodation of sleep in pregnancy.
Make sure that your sleep environment is cool, dark, and comfortable. Many women use support pillows to make sleep more comfortable. You can place these pillows between your knees, under your stomach, or even behind your back. It can also be helpful to raise the head of your bed. This will help with both heartburn and snoring. Pregnant women often find it helpful to sleep on their left side.
If you find that you are lying awake at night, you should limit the amount of time you spend awake in bed. With a treatment called stimulus control, you can ensure that you only use the bed for sleep and don’t worsen your insomnia. There are other behavioral treatments for insomnia that can also be helpful, including sleep restriction and cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTi).
Other Daytime Tips to Improve Sleep in Pregnancy
There are other things you can do to improve your sleep when you are pregnant. Regular exercise can help you to reduce stress and maintain a healthy weight. It can improve your circulation as well. Try to get 30 minutes of activity every day, even if it is low-impact exercise such as walking or swimming. Stretching before bedtime can also help with RLS and leg cramps.
Avoid specific triggers that may worsen sleep. Do not smoke or expose yourself to second-hand smoke. Alcohol use in pregnancy is discouraged as it can harm the fetus and will also lead to breathing and sleep disruption. If you have allergies, make sure symptoms are adequately treated. You can use nasal saline spray or even Breathe Right nasal strips to improve congestion and breathing through your nose.
Many women benefit from relaxation techniques during pregnancy, especially deep breathing exercises. These can be useful to manage the pain of contractions when labor begins. In addition, they may make it easier to fall asleep.
Pregnancy can be disruptive to sleep, but it doesn’t have to be. You can make a number of lifestyle changes that affect your diet, exercise regimen, and schedule that can help you to sleep better. If you have an underlying sleep disorder, treatments can lead to significant benefit as well. In some cases, prescription medications may be useful. If you struggle, you should speak with your doctor about additional recommendations.
Kryger, MH et al. "Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine." ExpertConsult, 5th edition, 2011, p. 1579.