The importance of sleep during pregnancy

Some tips and tricks for getting better sleep during pregnancy

Getting plenty of sleep can be tricky when you’re pregnant, especially during the later months, and in the first 12 weeks or so it is perfectly common to feel exhausted no matter how much sleep you get.

All the changes in your hormones, the excitement or anxiety about having a baby, the physical discomfort of pregnancy, frequent urination in the night, these can all lead to poor sleep whilst pregnant.

It is important to try and get a good amount of quality sleep each night – many doctors recommend between 7 and 10 hours – in order to limit fatigue and tiredness during the day to a minimum. Sleep plays a very important role in memory, appetite, mood, learning, and decision making, all of which can be crucial to preparing for your new baby.

Will lack of sleep during pregnancy harm my baby? 

Now, whilst a little less sleep than normal and feeling a little tired is unlikely to harm you or your baby, it can lead to you feeling more run-down and in a low mood, which can make it more difficult to function properly. Lack of sleep can also reduce your immune system’s ability to function and make you more susceptible to illnesses like cold and flu.

Try not to let lack of sleep bother or worry you too much and especially don’t worry that lack of sleep will harm your baby – it won’t. The only time sleep deprivation becomes a serious concern is in the case of severe sleep deprivation or chronically disturbed sleep.

From a simple Google search along the lines of “can lack of sleep during pregnancy affect the baby”, it is easy to find articles that mention studies that show a lack of sleep during pregnancy has been linked to preterm births, longer labour, increased likelihood of needing caesarean section, gestational diabetes, and preeclampsia. But what a lot of these articles don’t mention is that these issues were related to severe sleep deprivation, not the normal lack of sleep and tiredness that almost all pregnant women experience.

So, while lack of sleep certainly won’t help, you and your baby are in no danger if your sleep pattern is suffering due to pregnancy unless the lack of sleep seriously affects your ability to function – i.e., you fall asleep while driving, fall over while walking etc. which are normal risks associated with insomnia or lack of sleep.

Saying that, obviously you want to get as good quality sleep as possible as often as you can.

How can I sleep better during pregnancy?

In order to get those magical, often elusive, 7-10 hours of sleep, it is important to try to keep up a good sleep routine as often as possible.

One major thing to try and do is not to worry about not sleeping. When you’re trying to drift off to sleep while pregnant and it’s not happening quickly enough, it is easy to stress and worry about the lack of sleep and the prospect of being tired the next day. But increasing your anxiety and stress just as you’re trying to go to sleep will only make it harder to go to sleep and certainly won’t help you tomorrow.

So, try not to worry – you’ll be fine. If you don’t fall asleep within 30 minutes of trying, instead of lying there stressing, just get up and go into another room, read a book, listen to some music, drink some warm milk, do whatever helps you relax until you feel drowsy and then head back to bed and see if you can get your head down for the night.

What position should I sleep in during pregnancy 

It is often said that you should not sleep on your back during pregnancy as this could harm your baby. Now, while this is true, the NHS website says “research suggests that, after 28 weeks, falling asleep on your back can double the risk of stillbirth. This may be to do with the flow of blood and oxygen to the baby.” So, whilst sleeping on your back does pose a risk to your baby, this is mainly if you fall asleep on your back, as that is normally the position that you hold for longest during sleep.

The best and safest position to sleep in during pregnancy is on your side. Some experts suggest left side over right due to facilitating optimal blood flow to your organs and delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the baby, but either side is fine. And if you wake up on your back, don’t panic – the research mentioned above by the NHS focussed on which position you fall asleep in because that is the position that you keep during sleep for the longest period of time. If you wake up on your back, just roll back over onto your side.

Pillows and pregnancy sleep aids can really help to increase comfort during sleep and maintain a comfortable sleeping position during pregnancy. Putting a pillow between your knees or underneath your bump to help support it can also help.

Tips for getting a better night’s sleep when pregnant

We’ve put together a little list of things that you can do to help you get a better night’s sleep while you are pregnant.

  • Introduce a bedtime routine or ritual – a soak in a warm bath, enjoy some calming music, a foot rub or shoulder massage from your partner, a cup of pregnancy-safe herbal tea, literally anything that helps you to relax before bedtime.
  • Try to maintain your bedroom environment – keep it cool, dark, and quiet, and keep the bed reserved just for sleeping and sex so that your brain associates lying down in bed when you’re tired with sleep, which should help you drift off quicker. Heavy or blackout curtains can be especially helpful during the summertime!
  • Try to maintain a specific bedtime so that your body gets used to the routine of going to sleep at that time of night. Try to limit naptimes to earlier in the day to avoid them interfering with your ability to fall asleep at your specified bedtime.
  • Avoid caffeinated drinks or spicy or heavy meals too close to bedtime and, if you’ve gotten to the point where you’re urinating frequently during the night, try and reduce the size of your beverages and drink little and often instead rather than large glasses in the evening – try and get most of your fluid intake during the day.
  • Cut down your screentime in the hour or two before bed – the blue light from screens can make it harder to get to sleep. So, avoid computers, phones, and tv.
  • Try and exercise regularly earlier in the day so evenings can be dedicated to winding down for bed.

If you feel like you aren’t getting enough sleep at night and you’re feeling tired and sluggish during the day, it is ok to ask for help. Ask your partner to help with things that need doing, ask friends and family for help, talk to a medical professional if you’re worried, but don’t feel afraid to do it – it will help and it is ok.

And finally, take a nap.

Napping is great for making up for lack of sleep during pregnancy. If you feel tired during the day due to a sleepless night the night before then get your head down for a nap if you can. But try to limit the naps to the morning or early afternoon so that they don’t interrupt your ability to go to sleep at night. But, at the end of the day, you need to listen to your body – if you’re virtually dead on your feet because of lack of sleep during pregnancy, then you need to get your head down and rest.

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