For most women, pregnancy heralds a time of change. Unfortunately, with everything else, sleep also goes through major changes during this period. Even those who have never had any sleep issues may have trouble falling or staying asleep during pregnancy. According to a 1998 National Sleep Foundation poll, more than 70 percent of women have disturbed sleep during pregnancy more than any other time in life. Along with sleep changes, feeling fatigued is also a common complaint. Given the physical and emotional changes during pregnancy along with sleep disorders it isn’t surprising that pregnant women feel tired and overwhelmed during the first and third trimesters.
Sleep Disorders During Pregnancy
Disturbed sleep during pregnancy isn’t unusual. In fact, the hormonal changes during this time are the biggest reason for fatigue and sleep disorders. Even a perfectly healthy woman with no previous history of sleep disorders may start experiencing problems during pregnancy.
Some of the most common sleep issues during pregnancy are:
Insomnia: The biggest reason behind insomnia in expectant mothers is anxiety. Emotions and anxiety regarding labor and childbirth, changing relationship with their spouse or partner, balancing work and motherhood are just some of the worries of expectant mothers. This is particularly true of first-time mothers. The physical discomforts like back pain, nausea, and fetal movements also interfere with sleep. Once the baby is born getting proper sleep becomes even harder for most women. This leads to feeling unrefreshed all the time. Because sleep is so vital for expectant mothers, they should find ways to manage their sleep problems at the earliest.
Sleep Apnea: Overweight women are more at risk for developing sleep apnea during pregnancy, because of the inhibitory effect of hormones on muscles. Sleep apnea causes snoring and suffocated breathing, leading to fragmented sleep and insomnia. Sleep apnea is characterized by heavy snoring followed by long pauses, following by choking or gasping during sleep. The condition often goes away after birth. The same hormones also cause the frequent need for the bathroom during the night.
Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS): This is one of the most common sleep disorders during pregnancy, with over 35 percent of expectant mothers experiencing it. The symptoms of RLS include tingling or aching feelings in the legs, which makes the person want stretch or kick the legs. The symptoms get worse at night when the person is trying to sleep, and moving the legs provides temporary relief. Although the exact causes of RLS aren’t known, scientists believe that it might be due to a lack of iron or folic acid. Some evidence has also been found regarding high estrogen levels during pregnancy and its link to RLS. Women who experience RLS during pregnancy are more likely to have a longer labor and C-section.
Nocturnal Gastroesophageal Reflux (GERD): Also called heartburn, GERD is a normal part of pregnancy. Most expectant mothers show symptoms of GERD, with the condition worse during the night. Heartburn may occur anytime during pregnancy and often get worse with time. This is because the hormonal changes slow down the digestive system. The muscles responsible for pushing food down the esophagus function slowly during pregnancy. As the uterus grows, it pushes on the abdomen sometimes forcing acid from the stomach into the esophagus. Heartburn is one of the major reasons for disrupted sleep during pregnancy.
Sleep Positions During Pregnancy
With all these sleep changes and disorders, pregnant women may find their normal sleep positions not working for them anymore. Reasons like increased size of abdomen, heart burn, back aches, breathlessness and insomnia may lead you to look for different sleep positions. Fortunately, there are several sleep positions that are ideal for expectant mothers, regardless of whether you experience any sleep disorders.
Sleeping on the side is considered the best position during pregnancy. Sleeping on your left side is even better because it helps more blood and nutrients reach the placenta and the fetus. To get more comfortable, keep your knees and legs bent and have a pillow between the legs. If you suffer from breathlessness, prop yourself on some pillows to keep your head on a higher level.
Although these new positions might feel uncomfortable at first, you are likely to get slowly used to them. They are also safer for both you and your baby.
The need for sleep increases manifold during pregnancy. Although there is no medical treatment for the reasons behind disturbed sleep during pregnancy, it is possible to get relief by adjusting sleep positions and trying natural remedies like essential oils to promote sleep.