Terms & Conditions

Pregnancy insomnia: What is it and how to avoid it?

Dr Christine Catling

Dr Christine Catling

Dr Christine Catling, a midwife for over 25 years, is the Director of Midwifery Studies at UTS. She believes research, innovation and good quality midwifery are pivotal to the well-being of mothers and young families. Christine has extensive experience in antenatal education, policy development and research, and has published on workforce issues, homebirth, vaginal birth...
Created on Oct 15, 2023 · 7 mins read
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Everyone knows that when you have a baby, you are going to be sleep-deprived. But something that can often take Everyone knows that when you have a baby, you are going to be sleep-deprived. But something that can often take many mums-to-be by surprise is that sleep will often be a problem long before the baby even arrives. many mums-to-be by surprise is that sleep will often be a problem long before the baby even arrives. While in early pregnancy, women often sleep quite well (morning sickness, nausea and the need to wee aside), as they find they are often so tired and sleep more than usual. However, as the pregnancy progresses into the second and third trimesters, this can often take a turn for the worse. The tiredness doesn’t change but the ability to sleep does – mostly due to your changing body and that bump getting in the way. But it can also be due to something called pregnancy insomnia.

What is the difference between pregnancy insomnia and regular insomnia?

It’s a cruel fact of pregnancy that when you want (and need) sleep the most, you just can’t seem to manage it. And pregnancy insomnia is similar to regular insomnia – the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep – or both! But in pregnancy, it’s likely more due to factors related to the pregnancy. Although it does tend to be more common in women who experienced insomnia before they fell pregnant.

What causes pregnancy insomnia?

This lack of sleep is directly related to a number of those oh-so-wonderful symptoms of pregnancy such as discomfort related to your growing bump, heartburn, reflux, hormonal changes, frequent urinationleg crampsfood cravings/metabolism changes, back and hip pain as well as anxiety and stress.

Can it be harmful to the baby?

Thankfully insomnia is unlikely to be directly harmful to your baby, and is more likely to affect you, your energy levels, moods and general wellbeing.

If you are worried about your insomnia or you feel it is affecting your health or wellbeing, speak with your doctor about your options. Never take any over the counter medications without speaking with your doctor first.

Tips to help manage pregnancy insomnia

There are a number of things you can do to help manage poor sleep during pregnancy:

1. Pillows

Whether it’s a pregnancy pillow or a few propped up, find the most comfortable set up for you and stick with it.

2. Stay hydrated

Drink plenty of water during the day so you don’t wake up dehydrated and thirsty. This is a good general rule – your baby needs plenty of fluids!

3. Limit liquids in the evening

That said, try and keep the majority of your fluid intake during the day, and limit how much you drink after 6pm – otherwise you’ll be up 15 times to pee during the night.

4. Keep the lights dim

When you do have to make those dreaded trips to the loo, try not to turn too many lights on as this will make it harder to get back to sleep. If you have trouble navigating your way in the dark, maybe try a night light.

5. Exercise

Exercise might be the last thing you feel like doing when you’re pregnant but doing some form of gentle exercise (speak with your doctor if you’re unsure what type is best) even if it’s just a walk, can make a huge difference in helping insomnia. Just make sure you don’t do anything within two hours of hitting the hay because exercise releases adrenaline and that’s not what we want right before bed.

6. Sexercise

Sex during pregnancy can be great all around, and the feel-good endorphins that are released can help you sleep better. Win-win.

7. Magnesium

Always speak with your doctor before taking any supplements during pregnancy, however, if your doctor gives you the all-clear magnesium can help you sleep as well as treating constipation, leg cramps and restless leg syndrome that plagues some women during pregnancy.

8. Take a bath

A warm bath (be sure to keep it warm and not too hot) before bed can help you relax and switch off as well as help ease achy limbs – a little Epsom salts and lavender oil thrown in can also work a treat.

9. Clear your mind

If you find yourself tossing and turning and your brain ticking over with a million thoughts in the dead of the night it can help to get them out. Keep a notebook by your bed and write things down – whether it’s your to-do list for the next day, or just thoughts or feelings, the power of the pen cannot be underestimated.

10. Address the stress

Stress can be one of the biggest hindrances to our sleep – pregnant or not. So try to look at what is making you stressed and see how you can address it, is it work, finance etc, and then figure out if there is something you can do to manage it. If you’re feeling really stressed or anxious then it might pay to speak with your partner, a friend or a professional. Feelings of anxiety and nerves are 100% normal (and expected) during pregnancy – the fear of the unknown can be overwhelming, so try and get it out whichever way works best for you, so that it’s not keeping you up at night.

11. Switch off electronic devices before bed

At least half an hour (if not more) before bed switch off all devices and instead opt for a little light reading. Ideally something that will help switch off your mind and thoughts (so if you’re nervous about the birth maybe don’t read a book about giving birth right before bed…) and ideally not a page-turner that you can’t put down and find yourself reading into the wee hours either.

12. Manage heartburn

Heartburn doesn’t affect all women during pregnancy but it is very common and can strike in the dead of night. Propping yourself up so you’re not sleeping flat can help, as can ensuring you eat at least two hours before bed. There are some over-the-counter medications that are safe to take during pregnancy, but speak with your doctor before buying any of these. Also look at what foods you have eaten when your heartburn strikes to see if you can eliminate anything that is making it worse – spicy, fried and acidic foods tend to be the main culprits.

13. Managing hunger

While it’s not ideal to eat just before bed (because of that pesky heartburn) if you know you tend to wake up hungry then maybe try having a light snack before bed (or when the hunger does strike) but keep it light, for example, wholemeal crackers or toast, low-fat yoghurt, nuts or cheese are good options.

14. Caffeine

Caffeine can be hard to avoid (especially if you have other kids to look after!) but trying to limit how much caffeine, and when you’re consuming it, can help with your sleep. If you just can’t go without, try and have it in the morning or early afternoon – and definitely not at night.

15. Keep cool

When you’re pregnant your body becomes like an oven (bun in the oven takes on a literal meaning!) – even if you’re pregnant in winter you will probably find yourself sweating up a storm and especially during the night. Peel back the layers on the bed and keep your pyjamas light (and in breathable fabrics).

16. Massage

Whether you opt for a professional one or enlist your hubby to do it at home, massage during pregnancy can be amazing for relaxation and soothing those tired achy muscles. There are a couple of pressure points in the wrists and ankles that can stimulate the uterus to start contracting so just be sure to avoid those – or make sure your massage therapist is a trained professional if you’re outsourcing.

17. Vivid (and downright weird) dreams

While there’s not a lot you can do about these, unfortunately, the problem comes when you then lie awake thinking about what the heck those dreams mean. Analysing or rather over analysing them in the dead of the night will get you nowhere. No – there is nothing wrong with you. They don’t mean anything it’s just all the hormones and emotions and anxiety playing out. But if you are tossing and turning thinking about it then maybe turn to that trusty notebook and write it down to get it out of your head, or get up and go to the bathroom and reset.

18. Yoga/meditation or stretching

While we don’t want to be doing a full-on yoga class before bed, some simple yoga poses or stretches or some meditation can work wonders for insomnia by soothing the body and clearing the mind. There are some great apps that can guide you in what to do before bed to achieve this.

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