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How to get better sleep when pregnant

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27 October 2021|3 min read

Key points

  • There’s a range of reasons why pregnant people may have trouble sleeping.
  • There may be different causes of sleeplessness during the trimesters. 
  • Try to find a comfortable sleeping position and embrace taking naps when possible.
  • If you have any concerns about your pregnancy, sleep related or otherwise, reach out to your doctor. 

It seems so unfair that in a period of your life where ‘tired’ is the norm, good sleep may be so hard to find. But if you’re pregnant and spending more time looking at the ceiling than your eyelids – you’re in good company. 

Pregnancy is a time where there are many changes. Early in pregnancy, changing hormone levels may impact sleep.

- Dr David Cunnington

We talked to Dr David Cunnington, Sleep Specialist about how you could get better sleep during pregnancy. And he had some interesting thoughts on the matter. 

“Sleep problems are a normal part of pregnancy. Some polls found that 80% of women report disturbed sleep during pregnancy,” he says. 

But why? Dr David says there’s a range of reasons why pregnant people may have trouble sleeping. This could be caused by hormonal changes, discomfort or simply needing to pee. 

Annoyingly, the cause of these disturbances may change depending on what trimester you’re in. But understanding the cause may help you figure out how to improve the situation. 

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Early in pregnancy, changing hormone levels may impact sleep, whereas later in pregnancy sleep may be challenging because of discomfort.

What are the main causes of sleeplessness in pregnancy? 

Dr David says, “Pregnancy is a time where there are many changes. Early in pregnancy, changing hormone levels may impact sleep, whereas later in pregnancy sleep may be challenging because of discomfort and finding it hard to sleep comfortably.”

The different stages of pregnancy offer their own challenges. 

First trimester 

Between 4-12 weeks, the cause for sleep issues may likely be related to hormonal changes in one way or another. Maybe it’s nausea that’s blocking the ZZZs, or perhaps it could simply be other hormones affecting your sleep. 

Being awake in the middle of the night does have its benefits though. There’s lots of questions that need to be answered, like can pregnant women eat bacon? 

Second trimester 

As your uterus grows, this may cause some new issues in the snooze-zone. Some women may experience more tiredness in this trimester (between 13-28 weeks) as their body gets used to the increasing size of their torso. For those people, it may be difficult to find a comfortable sleeping position, which influences the quality of sleep. 

It’s been found that during this stage of pregnancy, one in five women may experience restless leg symptoms – possibly caused by bub eating up iron stores in the body. 

Heartburn may also be an issue at this stage. It’s a wonder anyone can get a wink of sleep with all of these things going on. 

Third trimester 

At this point in pregnancy (29 weeks+), most sleep related issues could be due to the fact that your uterus is the size of a watermelon and it’s just not that comfortable to lie down. 

Other common experiences include:

  • sleep apnoea
  • back pain
  • heartburn
  • difficulty breathing 
  • foetal movement 

Yep, anyone who has ever been kept awake by a midnight in utero soccer match knows there’s not much chance of sleep in those conditions. 

But there’s no need to worry, (while you’re also trying to figure out how often you should bathe your kid once they’re born, and the rest!), there are things you could try to help you snooze better. 

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If you have any concerns about your pregnancy, sleep related or otherwise, reach out to your doctor.

How could you improve your sleep during pregnancy? 

According to Dr David, there are four main ways you could increase your sleep quality during pregnancy. Great news, right? 

Find a comfortable position 

Easier said than done, but Dr David recommends side sleeping with a pillow between your knees. This may help reduce pressure. You could also buy pillows created especially for this reason, but a regular one should do the trick.

Embrace the nap 

“Having short naps throughout the day is a great way of coping with tiredness and catching up on lost sleep,” says Dr David. Napping is also a good way to relax during pregnancy – so it’s really a win-win. 

Reduce heartburn

Dr David also recommends avoiding large meals or spicy foods in the hours prior to going to bed if heartburn is why you’re missing your sleep. 

He recommends sleeping propped up on pillows to help ease the discomfort. “But, if heartburn is severe despite these measures, talk to your doctor about medications which may help,” he says. 

Give birth 

Ready to tick packing your baby hospital bag off your checklist? 

Great, because Dr David is also a huge believer that giving birth is the most sure-fire way to eliminate pregnancy related sleep problems.

 “Ultimately, the most effective treatment for sleep problems during pregnancy is delivering the baby,” he says cheekily. 

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Ultimately, the most effective treatment for sleep problems during pregnancy is delivering the baby.

Make sure to rest 

“Tiredness is a common part of pregnancy, particularly in the third trimester. This doesn’t necessarily mean that women need more sleep during pregnancy, and in fact sleep can be challenging particularly late in pregnancy. However, it’s important for women to make sure they’re getting enough rest,” says Dr David. 

He also recommends that if you have any concerns about your pregnancy, sleep related or otherwise, to reach out to your doctor.

You can also call the Pregnancy, Birth and Baby helpline on 1800 882 436.

Dr David Cunnington is a specialist sleep physician who helps his clients to treat their complex sleep problems while also promoting sleep health through education, research and advocacy. 

Reviewed by the healthylife Advisory Board September 2021.

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This article is for informational purposes only and does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. If you have any concerns or questions about your health you should consult with a health professional.