Sleep during pregnancy: the science behind those ZZZs

3 min read

When your hormones are going haywire and you’ve got a bump the size of a basketball, it’s not always easy to get enough quality shut-eye. After an exhausting day of nourishing the life inside you, you might pass out after walking through the door, or you might be tossing and turning so that you get a cumulative 30 mins of sleep once your alarm goes off!

Problems with sleep stem from the common symptoms bothering moms-to-be, so there isn’t always a quick fix to help you stay rested.

What could be the cause?

As your little one grows, back pain and fetal movements, as well as other pregnancy symptoms like nausea, anxiety, leg cramps, heartburn and frequent urination, can disrupt your sleep and make it difficult to get comfortable, fall asleep or stay asleep. If you already had issues with sleep apnea (breathing is interrupted during sleep), pregnancy can make it worse.

The importance of sleep

  1. You need sleep during and outside of pregnancy simply to process all the changes your body goes through during the day.
  2. It improves the immune system and brain function and it’s especially important during pregnancy because it regulates growth hormone levels.
  3. It dictates your shape and size in addition to the development of the fetus.
  4. Poor quality of sleep during gestation tends to result in a longer labor and is also correlated with a higher rate of C-section deliveries.

Sleep through pregnancy

  1. The first trimester tends to be the most challenging, since your body is adjusting to all the new changes in blood flow, hormones, and water retention. Specifically, progesterone causes drowsiness and is responsible for your new love of naps.
  2. The hormone increases level out in the second trimester, so might sleep more soundly without as many pesky symptoms weighing you down.
  3. In the third trimester, you might be burdened by weight you’ve gained, and struggle to find a comfortable sleeping position.

Problems sleeping during pregnancy

It can be internal or external. Things like:

  1. Your increasing size – It gives you a tough time in turning sides or sleeping on your back or finding a comfortable position to sleep.
  2. Frequent urination – A growing uterus puts pressure on your bladder, which leads to frequent trips to the bathroom around the clock.
  3. Body aches, restless legs and cramps – Unfortunately, the list of pregnancy symptoms contains many sources of pain and discomfort throughout the body, and they might be bothersome especially during the night.
  4. Vivid dreams or nightmares – It’s only natural for moms-to-be to worry about childbirth, parenting, and everything in between before they deliver. These fears are usually translated into bizarre nightmares that might shake you up enough to disturb your sleep. Many factors contribute to this:
    Hormones – Those unpredictable hormones make your dreams seem as real as ever.
    More sleep – Pregnant women need more sleep than those who are not and more sleeping means more dreaming, simple as that!
    Interrupted sleep – Pregnant women are far more likely to wake up in the middle of the night due to the various reasons mentioned above, which makes them more able to remember each and every dream and not just the last one that most deep sleepers remember.

What can be done to ease these symptoms a little?

  1. Sleep on your sides, especially the left side with your knees bent. That way, your uterus doesn’t press on your liver which can be uncomfortable, it improves blood flow and flow of nutrients to the placenta and baby, it’ll help relieve back pain and prevent shortness of breath.
  2. Avoid lying on your back as it presses on the major vein that returns blood from your lower body to your heart. The decreased blood flow could cause hemorrhoids, heartburn, decreased circulation and blood pressure problems. Also, sleeping like this for an extended period of time could make you feel dizzy.
  3. Using pillows to support your head, back, abdomen, and knees can also make sleep more comfortable. Specially designed pregnancy pillows can be beneficial.
  4. Have water only as needed post sunset to avoid bathroom sprints midnight.

Sleep and baby

As all parents find out in the days and weeks and months after their bundle of joy arrives, babies sure do love to sleep! But babies and pregnant moms don’t usually sleep at the same time – in fact, your daily movements can gently rock her to sleep- so baby’s sleep isn’t dependent upon yours, but your sleep can definitely impact her health!

So, now you know why getting sufficient sleep is surely a must-have for moms-to-be!?

Zahra Nulwala, Dietitian, Sports Nutritionist

Zahra Nulwala, Dietitian, Sports Nutritionist

Zahra is a qualified Dietitian and a Sports Nutritionist ('Nutritionista' to her loved ones) who practices a holistic approach to health and wellness. She helps her clients to change their relationship with food into a positive one which results in having a lasting impact on their nutritional choices as well as their lives. She believes that a healthy, balanced life is a journey, not a destination and it's never late to get on board! In her own words, "Nothing tastes better than feeling great! :)"

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