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Sleep during pregnancy: the science behind those ZZZs

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 minutes 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.

The importance of sleep

You need sleep during and outside of pregnancy simply to process all the changes your body goes through during the day. Sleep improves your immune system and brain function, and it’s especially important during pregnancy because it regulates growth hormone levels. This dictates your shape and size in addition to the development of the fetus, so sleep should absolutely be a high priority during pregnancy. 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

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. The hormone increases level out in the second trimester, so you might sleep more soundly without as many pesky symptoms weighing you down. 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

Problems with sleep during pregnancy can be internal or external--you could be overwhelmed with stress about life as a new mom or have trouble finding the most comfortable pillow to support your neck (or your stomach). No matter what’s afflicting you, there are bound to be more issues that get in the way while you’re pregnant, such as:

  • Your increasing size: Healthcare providers recommend that pregnant women sleep on their left side to reduce pressure from the uterus on vital organs. Getting used to this arrangement or moving around in bed can be difficult as your size and shape changes.
  • Frequent urination: A growing uterus can put pressure on your bladder, which means you’ll be making frequent trips to the bathroom around the clock. Additionally, your body has an increased blood volume for the kidneys to filter, which also contributes to more elimination.
  • Body aches and cramps: Unfortunately, the list of pregnancy symptoms contains many sources of pain and discomfort throughout your body, and they might be bothersome into the night.
  • 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.

To get better sleep when you’re pregnant, abide by the same rules you always have: get exercise during the day, eat and drink well, and stay away from stimulating activities before bedtime. We can’t guarantee that following a certain formula or routine will get you enough beauty rest every single night, but the best thing you can do is create an environment where you’re comfortable and at peace. Try to relax so that you and your little one can flourish.

Reviewed by Dr. Jamie Lo
Read more
  • Chakradhar Venkata, MD and Saiprakash B. Venkateshiah, MD. "Sleep-Disordered Breathing During Pregnancy." Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine. vol. 22 no. 2 158-168. Web. March-April 2009.
  • "Pregnancy & Sleep." National Sleep Foundation. National Sleep Foundation, n.d. Web.
  • "Sleeping By The Trimesters." Sleep Foundation. National Sleep Foundation, n.d. Web.
  • "Problems sleeping during pregnancy." U.S National Library of Medicine. MedlinePlus, 6/11/2014. Web.
  • UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA - SAN FRANCISCO. "Inadequate sleep in late pregnancy may influence labor and delivery." EurekaAlert. EurekaAlert, 12/15/2004. Web.
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