Why Does Pregnancy Sometimes Make Sleeping Difficult?
When you're pregnant, it can be hard to get a good night’s sleep. As you get bigger, it gets tougher to find a comfortable sleeping position. You may need to pee in the middle of the night. And heartburn can wake you up.
Some women have leg cramps and backaches, especially as they begin carrying more and more weight. Many pregnant women report that their dreams become more vivid than usual, and some even have nightmares.
Stress can interfere with sleep too. Maybe you're worried about your baby's health, anxious about your abilities as a parent, or feeling nervous about the delivery itself. All these feelings are normal, but they might keep you (and your partner) up at night.
How Can I Get a Better Night’s Sleep?
Early in your pregnancy, try to get into the habit of sleeping on your side. Lying on your side with your knees bent is likely to be the most comfortable position as your pregnancy progresses. It also makes your heart's job easier because it keeps the baby's weight from applying pressure to the large vein (called the inferior vena cava) that carries blood back to the heart from your feet and legs.
But don't drive yourself crazy worrying that you might roll over onto your back during the night. Shifting positions is a natural part of sleeping that you can't control.
Try experimenting with pillows to find a comfortable sleeping position. Some women place a pillow under their abdomen or between their legs. Also, using a bunched-up pillow or rolled-up blanket at the small of your back may help to relieve some pressure. In fact, you'll see many "pregnancy pillows" on the market. If you're thinking about buying one, talk with your doctor first about which might work for you.
Over-the-counter sleep aids, including herbal remedies, are not recommended for pregnant women.
Instead, these tips may safely improve your chances of getting a good night's sleep:
Cut out caffeinated drinks like soda, coffee, and tea from your diet as much as possible. Restrict any intake of them to the morning or early afternoon.
Avoid drinking a lot of fluids or eating a full meal within a few hours of going to bed. (But make sure that you also get plenty of nutrients and liquids throughout the day.) Some women find it helpful to eat more at breakfast and lunch and then have a smaller dinner. If nausea keeps you up, try eating a few crackers before you go to bed.
Get into a routine of going to bed and waking up at the same time each day.
Avoid rigorous exercise right before you go to bed. Instead, do something relaxing, like reading a book or having a warm, caffeine-free drink, such as milk with honey or a cup of herbal tea.
If a leg cramp awakens you, it may help to press your feet hard against the wall or to stand on the leg. Some women find that stretching their calf muscles before bed helps. Also, make sure that you're getting enough calcium and magnesium in your diet, which can help reduce leg cramps. But don't take any supplements without checking with your doctor.
Take a yoga class or learn other relaxation techniques to help you unwind after a busy day. (Be sure to discuss any new activity or fitness regimen with your doctor first.)
If fear and anxiety are keeping you awake, consider enrolling in a childbirth class or parenting class. More knowledge and the company of other pregnant women may help to ease the fears that keep you awake at night.
What If I Still Can't Sleep?
Of course, there will be times when you just can't sleep. Instead of tossing and turning, worrying that you're not asleep, and counting the hours until your alarm clock will go off, get up and do something calm: read a book, listen to music, or look at a magazine. Eventually, you'll probably feel tired enough to get back to sleep.
And if possible, take short naps (30–60 minutes) during the day. Naps can help you have energy to get through the day and give your body the rest it needs.
Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: May 2022
How to sleep better in pregnancy: 10 tips | Pregnancy articles & support
From your growing bump to heartburn and (what feels like) a constantly full bladder, it can be harder to get an undisturbed night’s sleep in pregnancy. Try our tips for a better night’s slumber.
Planning maternity leave, getting everything ready for your baby and navigating the last few months at work when your energy levels are plummeting… no wonder you need a rest when you’re pregnant. Ironically though, just as you need it most, sleep can become increasingly elusive.
Why can't I sleep in pregnancy?
It’s normal to feel tired in pregnancy (NHS, 2021a) so try not to get frustrated with yourself, as getting frustrated can cause more sleeplessness. Your baby is growing, and your expanding bump is understandably making it hard for you to get comfortable at night.
Changes in your hormones also add to tiredness in the first trimester. Experiencing heartburn, nausea and needing to wee more often are all normal symptoms (NHS, 2021a).
Also, you might have worries about what it’ll be like when your baby arrives, adding to those sleepless nights.
Why am I waking up at night?
Bladder problems can be twofold in pregnancy. Early on, you might still find you need to pee more often due to changes in your hormones during pregnancy (NHS 2021b).
Just as this is settling down in later pregnancy, your growing uterus puts pressure on your bladder – meaning more toilet trips again. However avoiding drinking completely before bed can lead to leg cramps, so be thoughtful but drink to make yourself comfortable.
Nearer the end of your pregnancy, as your baby’s head engages, your bladder might feel full even when you’ve just been to the loo. Try going to the loo before bed, leaning forward and exhaling to empty your bladder completely, then make yourself as comfortable as possible. At least the end is in sight – and if nothing else, it’ll prepare you for night awakenings to come…
Feeling hot in pregnancy
It’s normal for you to feel warmer than usual during pregnancy. This is due to hormonal changes and an increase in blood supply to the skin (NHS, 2021b).
You're also likely to sweat more. It can help if you wear loose clothing made of natural fibres to bed, as these are more absorbent and breathable than synthetic fibres. In warmer months, perhaps have a cool shower before bed, and try to keep your room cool with an open window or electric fan.
Restless legs syndrome
It’s estimated that between 10 and 25 per cent of women report symptoms of Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) during pregnancy (RLS-UK, no date). This is when you feel an overwhelming urge to move your legs. Symptoms are more noticeable in the third trimester and might make it difficult for you to relax and fall asleep.
Thankfully, symptoms are often temporary. Some women find it useful to stretch their legs, or have a massage or warm bath before bed to relieve the symptoms.
The worry factor
Fears about the birth or what life will be like with a newborn have an annoying habit of whirling around your head at 2am.
Some women also have strange dreams or nightmares about the baby, labour or birth. This is completely normal in pregnancy (NHS, 2021a). Talking about them with your partner or midwife can help. Remember, just because you dream something, it doesn't mean it's going to happen.
In fact, it shows that your mind is preparing you for the enormous task of being a parent, and becoming more focussed on your baby. Relaxation and breathing techniques may be helpful in reducing any anxiety you might be feeling (Ozkan and Rathfisch, 2018).
Attending an antenatal class like an NCT course and visiting the birthing centre or hospital you’re going to have your baby in can help you learn about what to expect. If you’re planning a home birth, talk to your midwife about what’s likely to happen and what you might need.
Occasionally, sleeplessness – when accompanied by other symptoms – can be a sign of depression (NHS, 2021a). If you have any of the other symptoms of depression, such as feeling hopeless and losing interest in the things you used to enjoy, speak to your doctor or midwife. There is treatment that can help (NHS, 2021c).
Top tips for getting a better night's sleep in pregnancy
1. Fresh air and exercise
Getting lots of fresh air and doing moderate exercise for as long as you feel comfortable might help you feel sleepier at night. There are other benefits, too.
One study found that 35-90 minutes of aerobic exercise 3-4 times a week during pregnancy is associated with a higher chance of vaginal birth and a lower chance of gestational diabetes and high blood pressure (Di Mascio et al, 2016).
Practicing relaxation techniques, such as yoga before bed may help with fewer awakenings and help to lower anxiety.
Jenny Barrett, an NCT antenatal teacher, says:
‘Some pregnant mums find that classes such as Yoga for Pregnancy can really help in getting some gentle exercise and learning some relaxation techniques. You could get your partner to give you a massage to help you relax – this is a good way to practice techniques that you could use during labour.’
3. Cutting the caffeine
Cut down or cut out caffeine, especially later in the day, and remember that caffeine is also present in tea, chocolate, soft drinks, energy drinks, and some medicines, such as cold and flu remedies (NHS, 2020b).
4. No alcohol for me thanks
Alcohol is associated with more disrupted sleep, so you may decide to cut down or cut out alcohol during pregnancy (NHS, 2021d).
5. Healthy eating
Eat a healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruit and veg, and you might find that herbal teas can help you unwind in the evening. Do some research before you sip though – while ginger and peppermint teas can help to ease morning sickness, green tea contains the same amount of caffeine as regular tea (NHS, 2020d).
6. Sleeping comfortably: a pregnancy pillow might help
Pregnancy pillows, or just an extra regular pillow, are often the favourite sleep aid of expectant mums. They can help support your bump or legs in bed and make you more comfy as your tummy gets bigger. You can also use them to relax on the sofa while you’re reading or watching TV.
You may fall in love with your big maternity pillows so much that you want to carry on using them after your baby is born. And coincidentally, they make great breastfeeding support cushions too! If that doesn't leave much room in the bed for your partner, they might find it easier to sleep in a separate room to get a better night's rest.
7. Helping the heartburn
Mums-to-be who’ve never suffered from indigestion before can be surprised when they get it badly during pregnancy. It’s caused by the valve between your stomach and the tube leading to it relaxing during pregnancy due to hormonal changes. This means stomach acid can pass into the tube and cause the burning feeling. In later stages of pregnancy, your growing uterus can press on your stomach and make the problem worse (NHS, 2020e).
It can come on when you’re going to bed, or you might even wake up with it in the middle of the night. Some people find avoiding spicy foods or eating too much at one meal can help, especially near bedtime. Eating little and often is the name of the game in the later stages of pregnancy, and try not to eat in a rush.
It can also help to raise the head of your bed by 10 to 15cm, or sleep propped up on lots of pillows (NHS, 2020e). If it won’t go away and stops you sleeping, ask your GP or midwife for advice. Your heartburn may not be completely relieved by medication but your doctor or midwife can prescribe an antacid that is safe during pregnancy (NHS, 2020e).
8. Avoiding the (not) morning sickness
Morning sickness affects nearly 70% of women and is not limited only to the morning (Einarson et al 2013). In fact, morning sickness – or nausea and vomiting in pregnancy (NVP) as it’s known too – can happen at any time of day or night (NHS, 2018).
It can help to eat small quantities of plain food, like toast or rice crackers, before you go to bed, as having an empty stomach can make you feel more sick. Keeping hydrated can help as well. Avoid very greasy or sugary food, as this can be harder to digest and make you feel more sick (that’ll help avoid heartburn too) (NHS, 2018).
9. Try to get help with older children
If you have other children, you could ask your partner to help when older children wake up at night. It can be hard enough to get a good night’s sleep in pregnancy, let alone if you’ve already got a little one who wakes up in the night or climbs into bed with you just as you’ve managed to drift off.
Tell your partner if you’re having difficulty sleeping, and encourage them to help deal with your other children in the night. Or, they could get up with them in the morning to give you a bit of a lie-in.
If older siblings sleep through but need constant attention during the day, try to get some sleep or rest whenever you can. Jenny says:
‘If the older child goes to bed in the evening, you could also go to bed earlier, even if only for a couple of evenings in the week to catch up. If your partner is able to take the older child out for a few hours at the weekend you could get some rest then.’
10. A healthy bedtime routine checklist
It’s a good idea to have a good routine for sleep hygiene. (NICE, 2020). So here is a suggested checklist for a healthy bed time routine to promote a restful night’s sleep:
Take up gentle exercise during the day.
Avoid caffeine a couple of hours before bed.
Avoid heavy meals that could aggravate heartburn.
Avoid drinking fluids a couple of hours before bed (but this does increase the chance of leg cramps) (NHS, 2020n).
Reduce activity before sleep.
Practice relaxation techniques or yoga.
Go to the loo to empty your bladder before you get into bed.
Wear light clothing from natural fibres to avoid getting too hot.
Use a pillow to support your bump or legs and lie on your side.
Safe pregnancy sleep positions
Around the middle of your pregnancy, start to get into the habit of going to sleep on your side. This is because research found that mothers whose baby was stillborn were twice as likely to report falling asleep on their back the night before. This may be to do with the flow of blood and oxygen to the baby (Heazell et al, 2017).
Don't worry if you wake up on your back – the research looked at the position women fell asleep in, as this is the position we keep for longest. If you wake up on your back, just turn over and go to sleep again on your side (NHS, 2021a).
And just remember, it's not forever. One new NCT mum says: ‘Even though my baby often wakes me up in the night now, the sleep I do get in-between feeds is so much better than when I was heavily pregnant and just couldn’t get comfortable.’
This page was last reviewed in March 2021.
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We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about birth, labour and life with a new baby.
Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.
10 tips for coping with insomnia during pregnancy
At least two thirds of pregnant women suffer from sleep problems 1 . In some women, they occur periodically and do not affect daily life, while others spend every night without sleep and live for many months in sleep-deprived mode.
Doctors warn that insomnia during pregnancy is normal. It is difficult for a woman to fall asleep due to a large belly, baby movements, heartburn, nausea, tingling and leg cramps. One of the causes of insomnia is considered to be a lack of oxygen: the uterus presses on the diaphragm and reduces the volume of the lungs, and the respiratory mucosa swells against the background of hormonal changes. Even if you manage to fall asleep, frequent trips to the toilet at night do not give you a normal rest.
What if you are already desperate to get a good sleep, and taking medication while carrying a baby is not an option? We offer 10 life hacks that will help to cope with insomnia in a future mother.
#1: Use Pillows
They say that a pregnant woman can't have too many pillows, and it's true. Try different positions: wrap your legs around a pillow, put it under your lower back, support your back to lie comfortably on your side.
Ideally, if you buy a special pillow for pregnant women, which gives a lot of space for imagination and makes life easier. It is indispensable for insomnia in the last 10-12 weeks of pregnancy. Choose options from holofiber, granules, swan or artificial down - they will provide maximum comfort.
#2: Sleep on your left side
In this position, the enlarged uterus does not compress the inferior vena cava and does not restrict blood flow to the placenta. Sleeping on your left side is an excellent prevention of edema and restless legs syndrome.
#3: Eat a Light Dinner
Heavy meals put a load on the stomach and prevent the body from resting properly at night. For dinner, it is better to eat lean meat or fish, salad, boiled or baked vegetables. We recommend giving up black bread and legumes, which can cause flatulence.
#4: Don't lie awake
If you can't fall asleep, don't stare at the ceiling for hours and drive your thoughts around. It is better to get up and walk around the room, open a window for ventilation, turn on relaxing music. When you switch your attention and calm down, the long-awaited dream will come faster.
Meditation is a great solution for pregnant women who suffer from insomnia. It relaxes the muscles of the body, copes with anxiety and helps clear the mind of unnecessary thoughts.
#6: Don't drink a lot of water at night
To avoid running all night to the toilet, drink from a small cup and don't drink too much green tea - it has a diuretic effect. If you feel thirsty before bed, take a couple of sips of water.
No. 7: Take a bath
If you have no contraindications, you should lie down for 15-20 minutes in warm (not hot!) water to relax your muscles and relax. A few drops of lavender essential oil will enhance the soothing effect of the bath.
#8: Listen to the sounds of nature
Download the app on your phone with relaxing sounds to fall asleep quickly. Perhaps, after 10-15 minutes of listening to the sound of the sea or the sounds of the forest, you will be sound asleep.
#9: Don't touch your phone before bed
Blue light from the screen reduces the production of melatonin 2 , which is needed for sound sleep and maintaining circadian rhythms. Therefore, 1 hour before bedtime, it is worth postponing all gadgets. If you want to pass the time, take a book or do needlework, listen to music.
No. 10: Create a comfortable microclimate in the bedroom
Ideal conditions for sleep are fresh air and a temperature of 20-22 °C. If you are hot, leave the window open or turn on the air conditioner, as long as it does not blow directly on the bed. During the heating season, use humidifiers - they make breathing easier and help to cope with nasal congestion in pregnant women.
It is difficult to overestimate the role of sleep in the life of every person. A complete healthy rest allows you to fully restore the functioning of the nervous system, relieve stress, improve performance and increase activity. Chronic sleep deprivation is the cause of many diseases. What can we say about a woman who is at the stage of bearing a baby. During this period, more than ever, she needs a healthy, long and full sleep. However, unfortunately, it is during this period that one can only dream of a restful sleep.
As soon as a woman finds out about her new situation, she has to give up a lot for the sake of the health of her unborn baby. And you need to give up not only bad habits: alcohol, cigarettes, coffee, but also from a comfortable sleep.
Insomnia can be caused by :
Fears and phobias before a new stage of one's life;
Nervousness and irritability;
During the period of bearing a child, the female body experiences an extraordinary load, especially in the last trimester. The need for more sleep increases, because the body expends much more energy. Therefore, healthy sleep and pregnancy are inextricably linked.
As soon as a woman finds out about her new position, she has to give up a lot for the sake of the health of her unborn baby. And you need to give up not only bad habits: alcohol, cigarettes, coffee, but also from a comfortable sleep.
Let's try to figure out how to sleep during pregnancy, so as not only not to harm the health of your unborn baby, but to sleep well.
Looking for a comfortable sleeping position
Each person has his own favorite position, in which it is easy to fall asleep and sleep. Many do not imagine a comfortable rest on their backs, accustomed to sleeping on their stomachs. This habit will have to be sacrificed, as it is unsafe for the normal development of the fetus. If in the first three months of pregnancy a woman can still sleep in the position in which she is used to and feels comfortable, then after the first trimester the growing belly will not allow her to lie safely in this position. Despite the natural protection of the baby in the form of amniotic fluid, there is a high probability of injuring the baby in a dream, squeezing it. But what is the right way to sleep during pregnancy?
Even if you are used to sleeping in a Spartan position, on your back, with your arms spread wide, from the 28th week you will have to radically change your lifestyle. The fact is that as the fetus grows, the load on the intestines and vena cava will increase significantly, blocking the access of oxygen to the baby.
As soon as a woman finds out about her new position, she has to give up a lot for the sake of the health of her unborn baby. And you need to give up not only bad habits: alcohol, cigarettes, coffee, but also from a comfortable sleep.
If you sleep on your back during pregnancy, you may experience the following problems:
Heaviness of breathing.
If you feel these symptoms or the baby gives persistent signals, you need to urgently change your position, so squeezing the vena cava is fraught not only with poor health for the mother, but also with a lack of oxygen supply to the fetus.
One of the most beloved positions for many people, which allows you to quickly fall asleep while hugging a pillow. Many women, as soon as they find out about the change in their lives, are interested in the question, is it possible to sleep on your stomach during pregnancy? Doctors recommend abandoning this position already in the first weeks, even before the enlarged belly makes it impossible to fall asleep peacefully.
If you are afraid during sleep, without controlling your movements, to arbitrarily roll over on your stomach, you can put a large pillow that does not allow you to change position.
In order to normalize your sleep and not harm the health of the baby, experts recommend sleeping on your side during pregnancy. And if at first this option seems unacceptable to many, after the second trimester, lying on your side is the only possible one. But here the question arises, on which side to sleep in order to ensure the safety of the fetus?
Sleeping on the right side can cause squeezing of the kidney, which can have dire consequences. The ideal posture is lying on the left side. Thus, you not only do not injure the unborn baby, but also improve blood flow along with oxygen to the placenta.
But one should not ignore the individual characteristics of each organism and the position of the fetus in the uterus. When the baby is in a transverse position, choose the side where the baby's head is. And with a breech presentation, doctors recommend changing the position several times a night.
If you still cannot improve your sleep, you feel unwell and you are tormented by insomnia, then it is better to consult a specialist. A good gynecologist will analyze the situation and help solve the problem. If necessary, he will prescribe a safe sedative that stabilizes the emotional state and helps to fall asleep calmly, resting and restoring the nervous system in a dream.
Fortunately, now modern manufacturers help women survive the pregnancy period with great comfort by offering special pillows. They are made taking into account the physiological characteristics of a woman in this period and allow you to find a comfortable position for relaxation.
You can buy two pillows and put one under your stomach and the other under your knees, looking for your best option. And you can buy a long banana-shaped pillow, which allows you to throw your leg on it while sleeping, which improves well-being and relieves the main load from the lower back and abdomen.