The Top Common Pregnancy Sleep Issues

Shot of an exhausted young businesswoman sleeping at her desk during a late night at work

What do you do when you can’t sleep and you’ve got a baby developing inside your belly? Certainly countless women have asked this question throughout the ages, as sleep issues are common during pregnancy. Here are some of the most universal:

1. Insomnia

According to the National Sleep Foundation, 78 percent of pregnant women struggle with insomnia. Luckily, as the American Pregnancy Association noted, this condition isn’t harmful for your baby. That doesn’t mean it’s OK for you, of course; not getting enough high-quality sleep is detrimental to your health in numerous ways, slowing reaction time, hurting performance at work and possibly contributing to mental health problems.

Insomnia during pregnancy can arise from a number of causes, including:

  • Back pain.
  • Heartburn.
  • Hormonal changes.
  • Discomfort from your abdomen.
  • Frequent nighttime urination.
  • Anxiety or anticipation of delivery.

Some of these causes are related to the other sleep issues listed below.

To help fix your insomnia, try some of the suggestions below:

  • Sleep on your left side with a pillow between your legs and, if necessary, under your abdomen. Not only does this alleviate pain, but sleeping on the left increases the amount of blood and nutrients delivered to your baby.
  • Prop up your upper body with pillows if you have heartburn or are frequently short of breath.
  • Avoid sleeping on your back or stomach, which causes pain and interferes with your circulation, digestion, blood pressure and breathing.
  • Prepare yourself for bed by taking a warm bath, getting a massage or engaging in relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation.
  • Exercise during the day. This helps tire your mind and body in the evening.
  • Avoid daytime naps unless absolutely necessary, as they make it harder to fall asleep at night.
A pregnant woman taking a nap.Sleeping on your left helps deliver nutrients to the baby.

2. Frequent urination

Pregnant women are no stranger to frequent trips to the bathroom. Unfortunately, because of your hormones and the pressure on your bladder from your baby, there isn’t a lot you can do about this one. If you’re really struggling, however, the following suggestions may provide some relief:

  • Drink lots of fluids during the day, but start cutting back in the hours before bedtime. This way, you’re properly hydrated but your bladder is relatively empty at night.
  • Use a night light when going to the bathroom after bedtime. Harsh lights from overhead wake you up more than a soft glow, thereby making it harder to fall back asleep.

3. Sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is a condition where your breathing is repeatedly interrupted while you sleep. It’s associated with complications like low birth weight, preeclampsia and gestational hypertension. Also, sleep apnea can increase daytime sleepiness, increasing your urge to nap.

According to the Mayo Clinic, sleep apnea symptoms include the following:

  • Loud snoring.
  • Waking up abruptly, especially if you’re short of breath.
  • Waking up with a dry mouth or sore throat.
  • Insomnia.
  • Morning headaches, attention issues or irritability.
  • Pauses in breathing noticed by another person.

The only true way to diagnose sleep apnea is through a sleep study. Luckily, there are a number of home tests available for purchase. That said, they’ll set you back a few hundred dollars.

If you just want a way to breathe more easily and reduce snoring, try some of the following:

  • Use a humidifier at night.
  • Sleep on your side.
  • Sleep slightly elevated by propping your upper body with pillows.
  • Exercise for weight loss (studies show a link between obesity and sleep apnea.)
  • Wear a nasal strip to bed.
  • Avoid sleeping pills, alcohol and tobacco.

That said, if you suspect your sleep apnea is a major problem, contact your doctor for specialized treatment.

4. Heartburn

Pregnant women often experience nocturnal gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also known as nighttime heartburn. Unfortunately, pregnancy hormones relax the muscle that keeps stomach acid down where it belongs, according to What to Expect. In addition, the baby bump pushes on the stomach during the last trimester, further shifting the acid.

If heartburn keeps you up at night, experiment with the strategies below:

  • Take an over-the-counter antacid. These are deemed safe for pregnant women and fetuses.
  • Eat frequent small meals throughout the day.
  • Avoid fried, spicy and acidic foods.
  • Using gravity to your advantage by propping yourself up with pillows at night.
A woman picking up medication at a pharmacy.OTC antacids are safe for pregnant women.

5. Restless Leg Syndrome

RLS is a crawling or tingling sensation in the legs. It tends to worse at night and is usually relieved by movement. Of course, you can’t move when you’re trying to sleep, so try the following instead:

  • Avoid taking medications for RLS; the pose a risk to your developing fetus.
  • Instead, make sure your prenatal vitamins include folate and iron supplements, which both reduce the risk of RLS. Note that folate is best absorbed when it’s in food form, so eat more whole grains, cereals and bread.
  • Increase your vitamin C and cut back on the coffee to improve folate absorption.

6. Leg cramps

Leg cramps are often thought to be a side effect of weight gain or vitamin deficiencies. If these problems plague you at night, here are some tips:

  • Take calcium and magnesium supplements.
  • Exercise and stretch your legs during the day.
  • Wear support hose when you can.
  • If you experience a cramp at night, straighten your leg and gently flex your foot. Avoid pointing your toes.
  • Talk to your doctor if you have severe pain, as this may indicate a blood clot.

While most sleep issues aren’t a problem for baby, you’ll definitely want to make sure you’re as rested as possible during your pregnancy.

Autumn Green is an artist-turned-writer who traded the sweet tea of the south for the deep dish pizza of Chicago. Her favorite subjects include art, culture, design, small business/entrepreneurship and healthful living.