One of the least helpful things I was told when I was heavily pregnant and struggling to sleep well at night was, “ooh, you wait until baby arrives, then you’ll know all about sleep deprivation.”
While we are aware that newborn babies are not the best sleepers in the world, difficulty sleeping during pregnancy is tough. It is normal to feel tired and often exhausted during pregnancy and you are allowed to complain about it! Your body is doing something incredible, working to grow a new life inside of you. It can be very frustrating then, when you feel exhausted but cannot get those eight hours of sleep every night which you so crave.
Here are some tips and tricks on how to improve your chances of getting some quality shut-eye during pregnancy.
I cannot get comfortable
It can be really hard to get comfortable at any time of day, let alone during the night, particularly during the third trimester.
The safest position to sleep is on your side, ideally on your left, to optimise the flow of blood and oxygen to the baby. This can be difficult if you are usually a front- or back-sleeper so invest in a collection of firm pillows to help support your bump and your knees, keeping your hips aligned and minimising any pain in those areas.
If you do wake up in the night on your back, do not panic, just return to lying on your side. Research has consistently shown that the position you fall asleep in is the position you remain in for the longest period, so the chances are you have just rolled onto your back shortly before waking up.
For more information, Tommy’s baby charity has a helpful Q+A section on safe sleep positions during pregnancy.
Hormonal changes and an increased blood supply in your body can also make you feel like you are overheating in the night so fewer items of clothing, a window slightly ajar, and a glass of water or cool flannel to hand can all help to keep you cool in the night.
You may have some strange nightmares during pregnancy, either about the baby or your upcoming due date. Your mind is working overtime, processing something new to you, whether it is your first or your fourth baby, and this tends to play out in your dreams at night.
Talking about your dreams to your partner, a friend or your midwife may help to alleviate some of your concerns. Another recommendation is to keep a notebook by your bedside. When you wake up after a troublesome dream, write it down – committing it to paper can help to clear your mind, allowing you to drift back off to sleep rather than ruminate on the bad dream. It is also worth re-reading your dream notes in the morning as your logical brain the next day may be able to interpret them better, allowing you to process the information with a clearer head and hopefully preventing a return to the same dream that night.
Relaxation and breathing exercises are also incredibly powerful tools to use both before bed and during the night.
I need to pee, again!
Frequent urination during pregnancy is common in all three trimesters. In the first trimester, pregnancy hormone hCG increases blood flow to your pelvic area – including your kidneys – which makes them more efficient at processing bodily waste and increases your need to visit the toilet. From the second trimester, your growing uterus will increase pressure on your bladder, giving it less storage space for urine. Finally, in the third trimester, your little one’s head will drop down into the pelvis, pressing on your bladder, increasing the urge to pee even more than ever before.
Unfortunately, this all contributes to increased wakefulness during the night to visit the bathroom and when you gotta go, you gotta go! What you can do is to try and empty your bladder completely by leaning forward as you urinate. It is important that you keep your fluid intake steady during pregnancy so do not cut down on drinking water, but try to limit your intake of diuretics such as caffeine and avoid drinking too much just before bed.
If you feel the need to visit the bathroom even after you have just been, or you feel pain when you do go, speak to your GP to rule out a urinary tract infection which can be more common during pregnancy.
Beat the insomnia
The more you worry about not getting enough sleep, the harder it can be to actually fall asleep. We are all guilty of clock-watching to see how long we have before our morning alarm goes off. Rest assured that, while exhausting for you, poor sleep will not harm your unborn baby. If you can, nap during the day and try to get some early nights where possible.
Chances are you will be laying off the caffeine during pregnancy anyway, but if you are still enjoying a daily cuppa, avoid drinking it in the afternoon or evening. Remember cola drinks and chocolate also contain caffeine.
Try to stay away from screens just before bed, particularly on your phone and turn off any notifications which might disturb you during the night. The blue light on our phones can interfere with melatonin, which is the hormone responsible for controlling our sleep-wake cycle. You also might end up reading a news article which upsets or worries you, which will not be conducive to a good night’s sleep and may increase the chances of you dreaming or having nightmares.
Relaxation techniques can have such a positive effect on your sleep. You could join an antenatal yoga or pregnancy relaxation class to enjoy in the evening, helping you to wind down before bed.
If your sleeplessness is accompanied by any other symptoms that are worrying you or those around you, speak to your GP or midwife.
Don’t beat yourself up
The most important thing to remember is that your body is working overtime to grow another human being. In short, you are amazing! Try to remove any thoughts of guilt associated with lack of sleep – you are not causing harm to your baby.
If you really cannot sleep one night, make yourself a warm, caffeine-free drink and sit quietly or read a book. Simply resting will benefit you far more than worrying.
Jen Dowding, Baby massage and baby yoga instructor, Basking Babies Laindon & Orsett