For many, pregnancy is a unique and special time of their lives; however, it doesn't come without its challenges. Common difficulties faced throughout pregnancy include morning sickness, bladder changes, back pain, heartburn and leg cramps. These changes, alongside changing hormones, can contribute to sleep disturbances and bouts of insomnia.
This article will explore how sleep can change throughout the different trimesters and the link between pregnancy and insomnia. We have also included some tips and recommendations to improve your sleep quality, both before and after pregnancy.
Sleep During The Trimesters
Pregnancy is divided into three trimesters, based on weeks. Each trimester is linked to different infant developmental stages and is also often associated with various symptoms and changes experienced by the mother. In addition, pregnant women may also encounter changes in sleep; here are some common sleep changes for each trimester.
- First Trimester ( 1 - 12 weeks): Throughout early pregnancy, you are likely to experience a change in hormones, and you may feel more drowsy and fatigued. A study✓ involving 7000 Polish pregnant women found that, out of those experiencing sleep problems, 86% reported daytime drowsiness. Insomnia has also been a common complaint during the first trimester.
- Second Trimester ( 14 - 26 weeks): Sleep problems may persist in the second trimester, with many reporting leg cramps, lower back pain and vivid dreams. A study✓ with 325 pregnant women also found that the amount of sleep started to decrease in the second trimester. Further studies✓ found that almost 28% of pregnant women were sleeping less than 7 hours per night in the second trimester.
- Third Trimester (27 - 40 weeks): The final trimester is commonly considered the most difficult regarding sleep. Increasing belly size, leg cramps, snoring and pain are all factors that could be keeping you awake at night. Based on 8798 participants, research✓ has found that 42% of pregnant women suffer from insomnia during the third trimester.
As your pregnancy progresses, you may need to adjust your sleeping position to ensure your baby's safety. Several pregnancy pillows are available that are designed to help support different parts of your body while maintaining the correct sleeping position. Below are the three main sleeping positions and their effect on you and your baby.
- Side Sleeping: This is the most recommended position, particularly on the left side. Side sleeping on the left can help protect your organs and improve blood circulation. Whatsmore, side sleeping is likely to be the most comfortable, especially as your stomach starts to grow.
- Back Sleeping: Sleeping on your back is not recommended, especially in mid to late pregnancy. As your uterus grows, there’s a risk it can press against blood vessels and disrupt blood flow. Additionally, research✓ has found that back sleeping in late pregnancy can increase the likelihood of stillbirth.
- Front Sleeping: While there’s little evidence to suggest that stomach sleeping is dangerous, it’s likely to prove uncomfortable and inconvenient as your stomach grows. Whatsmore, sleeping on your stomach can also put pressure on the uterus.
Good to know!
For those worried about sleeping positions, research✓ has found that sleeping positions during early to mid-pregnancy doesn't seem to affect the risk of complications. However, it's worth seeking medical advice if you have doubts.
Insomnia is a sleep disorder and can be categorised in various ways. This includes difficulty falling asleep, maintaining sleep and waking up too early. It is common to experience insomnia during pregnancy, especially in the first and third trimesters. In a study✓ involving 486 pregnant women, 52% reported suffering from insomnia, mainly in the third trimester.
There are various causes for insomnia during pregnancy, including back pain, leg cramps, vivid dreams, discomfort, nausea, and the need to urinate more frequently. In addition to physical changes, you may also experience increased stress and anxiety levels regarding pregnancy, birth, and any forthcoming life changes. While insomnia is common during this time, it's worth noting that there is little evidence lack of sleep can negatively impact your baby.
Pregnancy Sleeping Tips
Sleeping while pregnant can bring on many issues, such as leg cramps, discomfort and insomnia. While certain sleep disturbances can't be avoided, there are various things you can try to help improve your sleep quality.
- Bed: To help support your stomach, maintain the correct sleeping position and get comfortable, you can purchase a pregnancy pillow, which can come in various shapes and sizes. Pillows can be placed behind your back, under your stomach or in between your legs.
- Environment: If you’re struggling to sleep, it’s recommended to create a calming and sleep-inducing environment. This can include keeping your room dark and quiet at night; if this isn’t possible, you can purchase earplugs or an eye mask. You could also use scented pillow sprays, candles or incense to create a relaxing environment.
- Electronic Devices: Many electronic devices, such as phones and laptops, contain blue light, which is believed to restrict melatonin production, the hormone that helps you sleep. For this reason, you could try avoiding electronic devices before bed, or removing them from your bedroom altogether.
- Legs: Suffering from leg cramps or restless leg syndrome is common during pregnancy. To help ease symptoms, you can try doing light leg stretches before bed and staying active during the day. Getting enough calcium in your diet may also reduce pain and discomfort surrounding leg cramps.
- Heartburn: There has been plenty of research✓ relating to heartburn and pregnancy, with certain studies claiming up to 72% suffer from heartburn in the third trimester. To ease heartburn, you can avoid spicy, fried or fatty foods, as well as limiting caffeine. You can also try avoiding big meals, instead of opting for several small meals.
- Relaxation Techniques: It’s normal to feel stress leading up to the birth; if this is keeping you awake at night, you can try various relaxation techniques. This could include sleep meditation or yoga, with studies✓ claiming the latter can significantly decrease stress and anxiety amongst pregnant women.
Sleeping After Birth
Sleep problems not only occur during pregnancy but are also likely to persist after giving birth. Due to the demands of having a newborn, many parents experience frequent nighttime awakenings, sleepless nights and daytime fatigue. A study✓ involving 72 new parents found that two-thirds reported poor sleep quality, and 60% claimed they were suffering from poor daytime function.
With that being said, to try to relax your baby and encourage more sleep, there are various steps you can take. Firstly, you could try swaddling, which research✓ claims can help promote sleep and calm your baby if done correctly. Other methods can include establishing a consistent bedtime routine, keeping the lights low, and making sure the room is at the right temperature, which is recommended to be between 20 to 22 degrees Celsius.
If you have a partner, you can try to establish a nighttime routine in which you divide the time and take turns to check on the baby. To catch up on sleep, you can also try sleeping during the day while your infant sleeps. Most importantly, don't put too much pressure on yourself and don't be afraid to ask for help from friends and family.
Frequently Asked Questions
How to sleep when pregnant in the second trimester?
The second trimester can bring leg cramps, back pain and insomnia. To counteract any pain, it's recommended to stay active during the day and try gentle leg stretches to avoid leg cramps. To help with insomnia, you can try relaxing techniques such as meditation or yoga.
How to sleep comfortably when pregnant?
Getting the right mattress for your body type and preferences can make a difference in your comfort and sleep quality. You could also purchase a pregnancy pillow that can support various body parts, such as the back and stomach.
How to sleep better when pregnant?
There are various ways you can improve your sleep while pregnant. This can include getting a comfortable mattress with the right pregnancy pillow. You can also create a relaxing bedroom environment and limit your time on electronic devices before bed.