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Common Sleep Problems and Disorders During Pregnancy

by | Jan 19, 2023 | Pregnancy

Typical advice during pregnancy is: “Sleep now! You’ll never sleep again once the baby is born!” Easier said than done, especially in the third trimester when you can barely move and every second is a mad dash to the bathroom. While pregnancy is an exciting time, it can come with numerous challenges and sleep is a specific area of concern. Many women experience a different range of problems that can even develop into sleep disorders. It is always important to keep your doctor updated on any issues you experience during your pregnancy. 

Sleep Problems By Trimester

Fluctuating hormone levels in the first trimester can cause problems including nausea, vomiting, breast tenderness, increased heart rate, shortness of breath, higher body temperature, frequent nighttime urination, and leg cramps. During this time as well as during the second trimester, an increase in the level of progesterone can heighten the difficulty in attaining quality sleep. A constant feeling of tiredness can linger during the day creating a need for extra rest.

During the third trimester, everything becomes more difficult. When simply getting up off the couch is now an olympic event, you know sleep is going to be a major problem. General symptoms including body aches/cramps, Restless Legs Syndrome, general discomfort, heartburn, the need to urinate during the night, and anxiety can lead to poor sleep. Your baby may also take this time to really show off their skills and launch into a series of what feels like choreographed dance moves specifically designed to keep you awake.  

Good Sleep Hygiene During Pregnancy

If you did not practice strong sleep hygiene before getting pregnant, you may want to adopt a routine during this time. 

  • Keep a cool, dark, quiet bedroom and limit the bed to sleeping and sex
  • Prioritize sleep and stick to a consistent bedtime
  • Find a calming activity you enjoy to prepare for bedtime
  • Use a nightlight to avoid turning on an overhead light during bathroom breaks
  • Avoid caffeine, spicy foods, and heavy meals too close to bedtime to reduce the risk of GERD
  • Stay away from screens for at least an hour before bed
  • Get regular exercise earlier in the day
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day, but reduce liquid intake before bed to reduce nighttime bathroom breaks
  • If you can’t sleep, get out of bed and do something else until you feel sleepy
  • Find a healthy way to reduce stress like writing down thoughts in your journal, or seeking help from your partner, friends, or doctor.

There are other habits and products you can incorporate into your daily routine to promote quality sleep during pregnancy .

  • Sleep on your left side, making things easier on your circulatory system while also decreasing swelling in your feet, ankles and hands
  • Use a pregnancy pillow
  • Ask your doctor about different types of supplements including calcium, magnesium, vitamin D and iron
  • Utilize saline nasal sprays and nose strips to ease nighttime stuffiness

Sleep Disorders 

When problems persist and are not alleviated by good sleep hygiene, they may develop into sleep disorders. Some of the most common disorders that affect sleep during pregnancy are Obstructive Sleep Apnea, Restless Legs Syndrome, and insomnia. Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), is described by the National Sleep Foundation as a sleep condition in which the individual exhibits snoring, gasping, and lapses in breathing that disrupt sleep. Women who develop OSA during pregnancy may have an increased risk of preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and cesarean sections. This disorder is thought to affect as many as one in five women during pregnancy. Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS), a condition which creates a forceful urge to move the legs, is two to three times more common in pregnant women. When experiencing RLS, sensations of crawling, tickling, or itching in the legs can make it difficult to fall and stay asleep. Changes in iron and folate levels contribute to this sleep disorder during pregnancy. The most common sleep disorder, insomnia, can be caused by many different pregnancy symptoms. Hormonal changes as well as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disorder (GERD) can bring about insomnia in pregnant women. GERD, commonly experienced as heartburn or acid reflux, causes an uncomfortable burning sensation in the esophagus. This can be especially troublesome when lying down and affects women in their first and third trimesters. 

Quality sleep is vital for the health and safety of you and your baby. If you are experiencing difficulty sleeping or think you may have a sleep disorder, contact your doctor. A sleep center can also be beneficial in helping you to evaluate your needs to reduce symptoms of insomnia or other disorders. The Comprehensive Sleep and Breathing Disorders Center will provide you with a thorough evaluation in order to create a specific plan of treatment especially for you.