Latest posts by ASA Editor, M.D. (see all)
- Ask The Sleep Doctor: Sleep Apnea in Child, Depression and Sleep, MVA and OSA, Morphine & Sleep - September 2, 2018
- Ask The Sleep Doctor: What about 6 Hours of Sleep? Depression and Sleep Apnea? Traveling with CPAP? - August 28, 2018
- Ask The Sleep Doctor – Sleep Apnea and ischemic optic neuropathy - August 2, 2018
Getting enough sleep is important during pregnancy for expecting mom and baby, but many times it’s not easy to do. Pregnancy puts high demands on the body physically and emotionally that can keep the mom-to-be from sleeping, and can also worsen any sleep disorders that already exist. It’s common for pregnant women to feel absolutely exhausted throughout the day.
Physical discomforts are probably the most obvious reason for not being able to sleep during pregnancy. Some expecting mothers experience nausea, back pain, and fetal movement that can keep them awake. Also, their bodies are going through many hormonal changes, one of which is an increase in progesterone levels. This increase, especially in the first trimester, can cause daytime sleepiness. Hormonal changes may also lower blood pressure and blood sugar, making them sleepy.
Emotional demands are also to blame for sleep loss. Many women are kept awake with anxiety and worries about the new baby, baby sleep, finances, or relationships.
There are some common problems that many women face during pregnancy that affects sleep and how tired they feel throughout the day.
Insomnia is difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, and during pregnancy is usually associated with stress, anxiety, and physical discomforts.
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is an unpleasant feeling in the legs that many describe as “tingly” or “achy.” These feelings are often worse at night which makes falling asleep difficult.
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which there are long pauses in breathing for seconds or even minutes at a time throughout the night. A sign of sleep apnea is heavy snoring with long pauses, followed by gasping for air.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also known as acid reflux, happens when stomach content backs up into the esophagus. This can cause heartburn, vomiting, and breathing problems, and also may disrupt sleep.
Frequent nighttime urination is also a common problem for pregnant women and this too disrupts sleep.
Treating these problems with medication may not always be an option because many medications are not good for the fetus. But many symptoms can be treated with proper sleep hygiene, such as keeping a consistent sleeping pattern every night and getting the full 7-8 hours of sleep needed. It helps to avoid caffeine and napping late in the day. It is also suggested to keep a healthy diet and exercise routine.
When pregnant, it may be best for the soon-to-be mom to sleep on her left side to improve blood flow and nutrients to her uterus and the fetus, and also avoid lying on her back for an extended amount of time.
To avoid heartburn don’t eat a lot of spicy, acidic, or fried foods, and eat small frequent meals throughout the day. It may be helpful to also treat with antacids.
A pregnant woman with restless legs syndrome may need to be tested for iron or folate deficiency, and many prenatal vitamins contain these.
For discomforts and body aches, it may help to place pillows between knees, under the abdomen, and behind the back, while lying on the left side. This can help take pressure off the lower back.
For nighttime trips to the bathroom, it may help to keep the lights out. Keep a nightlight in the bathroom if necessary.
Many times morning sickness happens at night. It may help to try eating a few crackers at night and keep some close to the bed in case nausea strikes throughout the night.
Leg cramps can be caused by lack of minerals, especially calcium and magnesium, and this is more common when dehydrated. It helps to make sure prenatal vitamins are taken and enough water is consumed to stay hydrated.
If you think you may have sleep apnea, contact a physician to see if you need a sleep study. Sleep apnea is most commonly treated with a CPAP machine.
Many of these symptoms are common among pregnant women, but it’s important to know when to call your doctor. Since lack of sleep has been linked to hypertension, preeclampsia, and preterm birth, you need to know which symptoms to watch out for. These symptoms include a severe headache, vision changes including blurry vision, less frequent urination, shortness of breath, and abdominal pain.