How to Cope With Pregnancy Insomnia

Numerous factors can cause pregnancy insomnia, including nausea, heartburn, and anxiety. Here's everything you need to know about symptoms and effective treatment options for every trimester.

woman having trouble sleeping
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From nausea and back pain to swollen ankles, feet, and fingers, expectant parents experience a myriad of strange (and uncomfortable) pregnancy symptoms. They are a byproduct of changing hormones—and of growing a whole human being in your body. But while morning sickness may be the most common complaint, at least during the first trimester, another issue many face is pregnancy-induced insomnia.

"Pregnancy insomnia is the inability to sleep or sleep well during pregnancy, particularly in a person who doesn't have sleep issues outside of pregnancy," says Jill Purdie, M.D., OB-GYN and medical director at Northside Women's Specialists in Atlanta.

Here's everything to know about pregnancy-induced insomnia and how to treat it.

What Is Pregnancy Insomnia?

Pregnancy insomnia—or pregnancy-induced insomnia—is a condition which disrupts the sleep patterns of expectant parents. "Pregnancy insomnia typically involves difficulty falling asleep, frequent nighttime awakenings, and a decreased amount of deep, restorative sleep," says Alex Savy, a certified sleep science coach.

When Does Insomnia During Pregnancy Start?

While pregnancy-induced insomnia can occur at any point during gestation, most people have trouble sleeping during their third trimester. This is due, in part, to your growing body size. The larger your baby, the harder it is to eat, move, and breath. But listlessness and sleeplessness can also start in your first trimester, thanks to morning sickness and anxiety.

What Causes Pregnancy Insomnia?

There are many possible causes of insomnia during pregnancy, says Chasity Jennings-Nunez, M.D., OB-GYN and hospitalist site director for OBHG at Adventist Health-Glendale in Glendale, California.

"Some causes are related to common symptoms of pregnancy, like nausea, urinary frequency, fetal movements, and difficulty finding a comfortable position," says Dr. Jennings-Nunez. "Mental health concerns, such as anxiety and depression, can also cause insomnia. And more serious problems, like obstructive sleep apnea, can begin or worsen due to excessive weight gain in pregnancy, particularly for a mother who is obese at the start of her pregnancy."

Is Insomnia During Pregnancy Harmful?

While pregnancy-induced insomnia isn't particularly harmful to you or your baby, listlessness and sleeplessness can cause a host of other problems. Specifically, insomnia has been tied to depression and anxiety. It can also increase your risk of gestational diabetes, premature delivery, and/or prolonged labor.

How Do I Treat Pregnancy Insomnia?

To treat pregnancy-induced insomnia, the first step is identifying the cause. "Treating nausea and vomiting or pregnancy heartburn and back pain is, for many, helpful," says Dr. Jennings-Nunez. "Addressing mental health and social and family factors that contribute to poor sleep can be challenging, but provides long term benefits—for both the health of the pregnancy and newborn." Establishing a solid bedtime routine is also key.

Be sure to drink enough water and to limit your intake of caffeine. Ditch the screens an hour (or two) before bedtime, as too much blue light can affect sleeping patterns. Avoid heartburn-inducing foods, particularly in the evening hours, and keep your room cool. You should also find a comfortable sleeping position. Laying on your side with your knees bent tends to be best.

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