How to Get a Better Night's Sleep While Pregnant

You need sleep, but your burgeoning belly didn't get the memo. Snooze comfortably with these bedtime solutions.
Sweet Dreams
Sweet Dreams
pregnant woman in bed

Ericka McConnell

You knew sleepless nights would be a big part of the new-mom deal, but you didn't expect them to begin before your baby was born. What with that boulder that used to be your stomach, the nocturnal kicking, and bathroom runs, it's a miracle expectant women catch any solid shut-eye. Fluctuating hormones can also interfere with your natural snooze rhythm. "They're the reason women in general have a harder time sleeping than men do," says Carol Ash, M.D., an internist in Jamesburg, New Jersey. Fortunately, you don't have to slog through your final months of pregnancy in exhaustion. All the help you need to feel energized is right here.

Sleep Snag: A Growing Belly Bump

Toss, turn, toss, turn: Sound familiar? With your oversize middle, it can be tough to find a comfortable sleep position, especially as you near labor day. Snoozing on your left side is best, because it increases the amount of blood and nutrients going to the baby. "In your third trimester, you won't be able to sleep on your back," notes Shelby Freedman Harris, Psy.D., a psychologist and director of the behavioral sleep medicine program at Montefiore Sleep-Wake Disorders Center, in New York City. That's because the weight of the baby can compress the vena cava, the vein that transports blood to your heart.

The Fix: "It helps if you try different positions," Harris says. If you wake and find you've reverted to your back, change your position. "I tried lying on my side, but my arms would fall asleep," recalls Jennifer Johnson, of Olathe, Kansas. The couch wasn't comfortable either. Finally, her husband pulled a recliner into the bedroom. Johnson would lie back slightly with her feet up, and her arms and hands elevated with pillows. "Oh, man, what a good night's sleep I finally got!" she says. (Bonus: It also alleviated her heartburn.) No furniture to spare? Add pillows. While you're on your side, tuck a pillow between your knees. This will align your legs and spine, potentially easing pressure on the sciatic nerve, which often troubles moms-to-be. Or wrap yourself around a big body pillow to support your ballooning abdomen and reduce strain on your muscles.

Sleep Snag: A Space-Hogging Baby

The larger your baby gets, the less room remains for vital organs -- you know, like your bladder and lungs.

The Fix: "You want to stay hydrated, but avoid liquids about three hours before bed," Dr. Ash says. If you do a toilet run, use a night-light. Research shows that exposure to even a few seconds of bright light triggers your brain to be alert, keeps you up, and makes it hard to get back to sleep. If you feel short of breath when you're lying down, prop yourself up with pillows to ease the pressure on your lungs. Better now?

Sleep Snag: Too Much Going On

Physical discomfort isn't the only challenge here. A major change is coming, and your brain may be one never-ending to-do list.

The Fix: The more you take care of, the more in control and calm you'll feel, so harness your nesting instincts. Keep track of all you need to get done, delegate what you can, and chip away at the rest, tackling a bit each day.

Sleep Snag: A GI system that's gone totally wild

By the second trimester, even though queasiness usually subsides, acid reflux (and the resulting feeling of heartburn) may leave a calling card. The reason for the discomfort: Your growing baby presses against your stomach, forcing acid up into your throat. Meanwhile, your hormones are skyrocketing, which can loosen the muscles between your stomach and esophagus, allowing acid to leak. Lovely.

The Fix: Consider breaking up your usual three meals into six smaller ones throughout the day, and be especially careful to avoid large meals before bed to give your body time to digest food. Whenever you chow, take time to savor it. Crave an evening snack? Makes yours a doze-inducing one. Protein-rich foods, such as dairy, peanut butter, and eggs, contain tryptophan, which can make you sleepy. Pair one with a healthy carb to help carry the protein to your brain. Tasty combos: a few crackers with reduced-fat cheese, a whole-grain granola bar with a glass of skim milk, or peanut butter on whole-wheat toast. Other body blips keeping you up at night?

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