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Sleep during pregnancy: The science behind those ZZZs

When your hormones are going haywire and your bump is 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 fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow. On the other hand, you might end up tossing and turning so much that you feel like you barely slept by the time your alarm goes off.

Sleep issues during pregnancy stem from the seemingly endless symptoms associated with growing a baby. While your body craves more rest than usual, it’s not always easy to log the hours you need — but there are a few things you can try. Here’s what you should know about sleep during pregnancy and what you can do to catch those Zs.

The importance of sleep

With high-flying hormones, a placenta to build, and a heavier load to carry around, you’re bound to feel sleepier than normal. Growing a human is no easy feat, and fatigue is your body’s way of telling you it needs rest.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, not getting enough sleep during pregnancy could put you at a higher risk for pregnancy complications like preeclampsia and gestational diabetes. Lack of sleep is also associated with longer labors and higher rates of C-sections.

Sleep through pregnancy

Pregnancy can be a whimsical experience, but your sleep schedule might not be so dreamy. During the first several weeks, as progesterone is spiking and the placenta develops, you might feel sleepy throughout the day or too nauseous to sleep at night.

You might have a little more energy during the second trimester — or at least feel less inclined to take naps — but for some, the fatigue keeps up. Throughout pregnancy, your body pumps more blood, which can increase your heart rate and make it harder to sleep.

As your belly gets bigger in the third trimester and your body retains more water, you might struggle to find a comfy position and stay asleep for longer than a few hours.

Problems sleeping during pregnancy

Pregnant folks have trouble sleeping for various reasons — and sometimes, it’s a combination of little things. From a growing belly and pressure on your bladder to body aches, restless legs, and a racing mind, there might seem to always be something getting in the way of a good snooze.

But luckily, not all hope is lost. Here is a rundown of the most common pregnancy sleep issues below and what might help:

  • Your expanding belly: It’s no secret that a melon-sized bump makes it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep, especially if you’re used to sleeping on your stomach. Lying on your left side alleviates pressure from your liver and other organs, and for many, it’s the most comfortable position during pregnancy. A pregnancy pillow can also make a world of difference, as it supports your belly and cradles you from all angles.
  • Frequent urination: Your expanding uterus can put pressure on your bladder, making you feel like you need to pee more often. For a lot of pregnant folks, this is unavoidable. However, using the bathroom right before you hit the hay might help you get a longer stretch of uninterrupted sleep.
  • Body aches: Backaches and stiffness can also contribute to sleep woes during pregnancy. Using a pregnancy pillow or propping yourself up with a few cushions can alleviate pressure on your back and neck. Try some gentle stretching and stay hydrated.
  • Restless leg syndrome: The tugging sensation that gives you the urge to constantly move your legs while in bed (AKA restless legs syndrome) can make it really tough to get the sleep you need. Since it can be related to anemia, boosting your iron intake might help, but be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before taking any new supplements.
  • Vivid dreams or nightmares: As your due date inches closer, you might start to have strange or unsettling dreams. Racing thoughts and heightened stress in the last few weeks are normal (and completely understandable). But if you’re losing sleep over it, you might try turning off your electronics, practicing meditation, and avoiding making to-do lists right before going to bed. If stress is keeping you up at night more often than not, we recommend talking to your healthcare provider.

While pregnancy symptoms create more hurdles to falling asleep and staying asleep, getting quality shut-eye isn’t a whole lot different than when you’re not pregnant. Eating a healthy diet, exercising, and avoiding screens before bed can go a long way — a good pillow or two doesn’t hurt either. If you’re still having trouble getting quality sleep, you can always ask your provider about pregnancy-safe sleep aids.

Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team

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