Understanding Pregnancy Sleep Problems

Why are sleep disturbances more common during pregnancy?

Losing Sleep

Why do sleep problems suddenly begin or increase in severity for pregnant women? There are many physical and emotional factors that may contribute to sleep difficulties during pregnancy. Learn why you might not be enjoying the sweet slumber that you need now more than ever.

According to a poll by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), 78 percent of women reported more disturbed sleep during pregnancy than at other times. Physical and emotional changes account for most of the difficulty. These are some of the reasons you might be losing sleep:

  • As your body grows and changes, your old sleep positions might not feel so comfortable anymore.
  • You might be feeling the aches and pains of a normal pregnancy, such as heartburn, nausea, or hemorrhoids, and these can tend to keep you awake at night.
  • Your bladder holds less fluid as your baby grows. You might need to get up several times a night to urinate.
  • Emotions and anxiety about birth, becoming a mother, work, and your changing relationship with your partner might also play a part in keeping you tossing and turning between the sheets.

Suddenly Snoring

Have you found yourself with a newfound ability to snore loudly? You're not alone! The NSF reports that approximately 30 percent of pregnant women snore because of increased swelling in their nasal passages. The snoring occurs because the swelling partially obstructs the airways. But snoring during pregnancy is no joke. According to the NSF, snoring can lead to high blood pressure, putting mother and child at risk.

In severe cases of airway blockage, a condition called sleep apnea may occur. People with sleep apnea often snore loudly, and there are brief instances during which breathing actually stops. According to the NSF, the lack of oxygen can prevent you from getting the sleep you need, and could potentially harm your baby. If you're snoring loudly at night, and find yourself tired from a poor night's sleep, don't delay consulting with your doctor about it.

Restless Leg Syndrome

A little-known sleep disturbance called Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) often begins or worsens during pregnancy. In fact, according to the NSF, up to 15 percent of pregnant women develop RLS during the third trimester.

But what is RLS and why is it a problem? In RLS, you experience crawling or moving feelings in your foot, calf, or upper leg that can momentarily disrupt sleep. If you move your legs, the symptoms are momentarily eased. But as soon as your leg is still, the annoying sensations return. It may sound trivial, but if you experience this repeatedly over the course of a whole night, you probably won't get much sleep.

People who are not pregnant also experience this syndrome, and there are medications to treat it. Unfortunately, these medications aren't safe to use during pregnancy. Luckily, the symptoms of pregnancy-onset RLS usually diminish or vanish after pregnancy. If you're being plagued by these symptoms, see your doctor for advice. Also try to take frequent naps to make sure you're getting the rest you need.

Sleep Problems by Trimester

Each trimester brings its own unique changes, including changes in sleep. According to NSF, these are the most common sleep changes that may occur in each trimester:

First Trimester

  • You may wake more frequently to empty your bladder.
  • You may experience disturbed sleep patterns resulting from physical and emotional changes in your life.
  • You may feel very sleepy during some periods of the day as a result of disturbed sleep, and as a side effect of increased levels of the hormone progesterone.

Second Trimester

  • You may feel more sleepy during the day, and have more restful periods of sleep at night than in your first trimester. Progesterone levels are still on the rise, but they're rising more slowly than in the previous trimester.
  • You'll probably find nighttime urination becoming less urgent as the growing fetus reduces pressure on the bladder by moving above it.
  • Your quality of sleep is still likely worse than it was before pregnancy due to general physical discomfort and emotional factors.

Third Trimester

  • You'll likely experience the most sleep problems during this trimester.
  • You may feel uncomfortable in general as your belly increases in size and your weight increases.
  • Heartburn, leg cramps, and sinus congestion are common reasons you might be experiencing disturbed sleep during this trimester.
  • You'll probably experience the return of frequent nighttime urination, as the baby's position changes to put pressure on the bladder once again.
  • According to the NSF, by the end of pregnancy, 97 percent of women wake during the night.
  • While you may fear you won't get a decent night's sleep until your baby is born, for most women that's unlikely to be the case. You may suffer more sleep disturbances than usual, but with strategies such as regular exercise, proper diet, decreased fluid intake before bedtime, and an established soothing bedtime routine, you should be able to have sweet dreams. If you're still having occasional bad nights, daytime naps will help give you the rest you need. But if your sleep disturbances are severe, don't hesitate to ask your doctor to help you find solutions that will work for you.

 

Source: National Sleep Foundation, www.sleepfoundation.org

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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