Although pregnancy is generally exciting, it can be an exhausting time, too – when sleep troubles may start to creep in. Whether you’re in your first or third trimester, your circulation and other body systems are working at a fantastic rate to meet the increasing demands of your expanding womb and growing baby. Better sleep and regular naps are almost medicinal in their ability to re-energise you throughout your pregnancy. But, depending on how far along you are, everything from back and hip pain to vivid dreams and hot flushes can keep you awake. The good news is that there are ways to overcome these problems and ensure you get the rest you need.
First trimester sleep struggles
- Feeling tired and run-down is common during the first trimester. “This is due to the huge amounts of energy and resources your body utilises to grow the placenta and baby, and support your pregnancy to term,” says nurse, midwife and co-author of the newly released Pregnancy Sense, Heather Wood. There are other sleep disruptors too.
- Hormonal changes, particularly increased progesterone, while the placenta is establishing in the first trimester have also been associated with fatigue.
- Nausea and vomiting are common in the first trimester and are energy sapping. Nausea can disrupt night-time sleep too, with some women reporting that they feel sick and even vomit at about 10pm.
- Stress – the start of the pregnancy journey can feel overwhelming as you’re processing all the emotional and physical changes taking place. Coupled with anxiety, this can affect your sleep.
- Iron deficiency anaemia can occur as a woman’s body needs more iron during pregnancy. This can cause extreme tiredness, especially in the first trimester. Visit your healthcare provider and have a routine blood test to rule this out.
- Frequent visits to the loo to empty your bladder can be blamed on your expanding uterus, plus increased progesterone levels.
- Go to bed early. Don’t eat dinner too late, rather have a light evening meal to try and minimise late-night nausea, says Heather.
- Cut out caffeine. Eat plenty of fresh vegetables, fish, wholegrains and yeast extract, which are sources of vitamin B that can combat insomnia. Avoid rich, greasy, sugary and fast foods as much as possible.
- Don’t drink too much before bed. Make sure to drink your fluids earlier on in the day to avoid dehydration, but also to minimise night-time loo visits.
- Relax before bedtime. This means no screen time, says Heather. Rather have a warm bath, followed by a soothing massage, yoga or stretching exercises for a few minutes, and listen to relaxing music.
Top tip: It’s important to prepare for bed before you’re too tired, as often we delay going to bed when we don’t have the energy to brush our teeth!
Second trimester sleep struggles
This is the time when you’ll more than likely feel your best and sleep better – as hormonal fluctuations settle. However, as your belly expands and you start to sleep less on your back, you may notice more aches and pains, especially in your hips and lower back.
- Achy joints and cramps are common in the hips, lower back, pelvic area and legs due to uncomfortable sleep positions as well as looser ligaments.
- Heartburn and reflux isone of the most common complaints among pregnant women, and tends to flare up in the second trimester. As you lie down at night, heartburn and reflux can worsen, due to increased pressure on the stomach.
- Feeling thirsty, even at night is normal, explains Heather. During pregnancy, your body needs more fluids to flush out toxins and pump more blood to all the vital organs. However, extreme thirst can be a sign of diabetes, so it’s important to have this checked if you suspect there’s a problem.
- Try to move more and keep your heart rate consistent. Moderate, regular exercise helps you sleep better, says Heather.
- Create the right sleep environment. Good ventilation is important to minimise hot flushes and restless nights. Don’t overheat your bedroom or wear too many layers.
- A comfortable mattress is key. If you’re struggling with achy joints or hip pain, make sure you have the right mattress – which should support your body while you sleep.
- Support your back while you sleep. Keep your knees bent, and use pillows under and around your bump or knees to feel comfortable.
- Avoid spicy foods. Instead, cook with a variety of herbs and simple accompaniments like lemon juice, olive oil and apple cider vinegar. It’s also important to limit your salt intake, unless you have really low blood pressure – if this is the case, it’s important to chat to your doctor.
Third trimester sleep struggles
As you move into the third trimester, your ever-expanding belly will place increasing strain on your body, and a good night’s sleep will be harder to achieve. In fact, studies have demonstrated that most pregnant women wake at least twice a night in the third trimester. Also, racing thoughts might make it more difficult to settle down and fall asleep.
- Vivid dreams all come down to stress as your due date approaches, explains Heather. This can be attributed to anxiety about the birth, finances, your marriage or your baby’s health and wellbeing.
- Frequent trips to the loo are largely due to the growth of the baby and engagement of the baby’s head, explains Heather. The bladder has limited space to expand.
- Keep stress under control. Stay on top of your to-do list and be organised and proactive, says Heather. If you’re really tired, try to delegate a number of tasks to your partner, as well as caring friends and family. Keep a pen and paper by your bed, to write down intruding thoughts.
- Cut back on liquids. Just like in the first trimester, try not to drink fluids a few hours before bed and limit or cut out caffeine to avoid dehydration.
Heather Wood is antenatal teacher at Thula Baby Centre and co-author of Pregnancy Sense.
Pregnancy Sense is available at most bookstores (R185) or online at www.megfaure.com.
Tammy is a wife, mom and freelance writer with 15 years’ experience in the media industry. She specialises in general lifestyle topics related to health, wellness and parenting. Tammy has a passion for fitness and the great outdoors. If she’s not running around after her daughter, you’ll find her off the beaten track, running, hiking or riding her bike. Learn more about Tammy Jacks .