Sleep can be a catch-22 when you’re pregnant: You’re so exhausted from all of the hormonal and physical changes taking place in your body that you’ll do anything to catch some quality shut-eye. Yet when nighttime rolls around, it can be hard to get the deep sleep you crave.
If you’re struggling with this pregnancy issue, you’re not alone. A recent survey from the National Sleep Foundation suggests 78 percent of pregnant women have trouble snoozing soundly.
Although some sleep disturbances are unavoidable, there are simple things you can do now to get the sleep you need before your baby is born — and you'll have to wake up.
If you’re up at night because you have to use the bathroom, you can’t get comfortable or you’re worrying about how your life will change, it can be hard to fall asleep and stay asleep.
“I like to tell moms that it’s kind of nature’s way of getting you ready to have a baby and waking up in the middle of the night,” Dr. Nicole P. Scott, a board-certified OB-GYN at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis and an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Indiana University School of Medicine, told Fox News.
To get the best night’s rest possible, exercise for at least 30 minutes every day, and try relaxation techniques like prenatal yoga or meditation. Only use your bedroom for sleep and sex, power down electronics one to two hours before bedtime, and make sure your room is cool and dark.
Limit caffeine in the afternoon, and try eating a small snack with protein and complex carbohydrates like an apple with almond butter.
This combination will increase levels of tryptophan, an amino acid which is then turned into the hormones melatonin and serotonin to help you sleep, Dr. Robert S. Rosenberg, director of the Sleep Disorders Center of Prescott Valley, Ariz. and author of “The Doctor’s Guide to Sleep Solutions For Stress and Anxiety,” told Fox News.
2. Restless leg syndrome
Restless leg syndrome, a condition that affects up to 25 percent of pregnant women, can give you strange sensations throughout your legs and make it impossible to relax, much less sleep.
Restless leg syndrome usually shows up in the third trimester, likely due to a drop in iron and folic acid levels, which your baby requires more of.
In some people, it may also be due to low levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that the brain needs iron to produce, Rosenberg said.
To cope, continue to take your prenatal vitamin with folic acid. Ask your doctor to check both your ferritin and vitamin D levels, as restless leg syndrome can be exacerbated by low levels of vitamin D as well. If your levels are low, your doctor may prescribe a supplement.
Massage, stretching and keeping your legs elevated can all help. If you have a severe case of restless leg syndrome, your doctor may also recommend intermittent pneumatic compression boots.
3. Frequent urination
Hormonal changes and your growing uterus make for constant bathroom breaks throughout the day, but at night, they can make for a restless night’s sleep.
Although there’s not much you can do to avoid the urge to go, try to cut back on any fluids one to two hours before bed and urinate before you get into bed. If you also have pain, be sure to call your doctor because you might have a urinary tract infection.
Thank your rapidly rising hormones for so-called “morning sickness,” and that all day sick feeling in your stomach.
Do your best to eat healthy meals, and avoid caffeine and acidic foods, which can help keep nausea at bay. Saltine crackers or ginger can help settle your stomach too.
You might also try a vitamin B6 supplement, antacids or Unisom, a sleep aid which is safe during pregnancy, Scott said.
5. Acid reflux
That burning sensation that won’t seem to go away is annoying, but most women will have acid reflux especially during the second and third trimesters. Acid reflux is due to the hormones progesterone and relaxin, which cause the esophageal sphincter, the muscles around the esophagus, to relax, Rosenberg said.
Because food itself will dilate the esophagus, avoid eating two hours before bedtime, and avoid fatty and spicy foods, as well as chocolate and dairy.
Aside from antacids, try to prop up your pillows to elevate your head about 30 degrees to prevent the acid from moving up.
6. Leg cramps
About 75 percent of pregnant women have leg cramps by the third trimester, which is due to extra fluid and electrolyte changes, Scott said.
To prevent them from cramping your sleep, drink plenty of water throughout the day, try stretching and massage, and elevate your legs before you go to sleep.
A calcium and magnesium supplement may also prevent cramps, but be sure to talk to your doctor first.
You may have never been a snorer before, but because estrogen and progesterone can cause the blood vessels in the nose to swell and the muscles in the throat to relax, snoring can be a problem now.
Snoring will likely resolve after you give birth, but it could also mean you have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which affects about one-quarter of pregnant women, a study in the International Journal of Obstetric Anesthesia found.
Try nasal strips or nasal saline irrigation, and try to elevate your head, which can significantly reduce the swelling in your nose and upper airways.
If your partner says that you stop breathing at night, you’re sleepy during the day, or you have high blood pressure, preeclampsia or gestational diabetes, you should talk to your doctor to rule out OSA, which studies show can increase your risk for a caesarean section and require your baby to be in the NICU.
Julie Revelant is a health journalist and a consultant who provides content marketing and copywriting services for the healthcare industry. She's also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com.