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Sleeping During Pregnancy

Why Does Pregnancy Sometimes Make Sleeping Difficult?

When you're pregnant, it can be hard to get a good night’s sleep. As you get bigger, it gets tougher to find a comfortable sleeping position. You may need to pee in the middle of the night. And heartburn can wake you up. 

Some women have leg cramps and backaches, especially as they begin carrying more and more weight. Many pregnant women report that their dreams become more vivid than usual, and some even have nightmares.

Stress can interfere with sleep too. Maybe you're worried about your baby's health, anxious about your abilities as a parent, or feeling nervous about the delivery itself. All these feelings are normal, but they might keep you (and your partner) up at night.

How Can I Get a Better Night’s Sleep?

Early in your pregnancy, try to get into the habit of sleeping on your side. Lying on your side with your knees bent is likely to be the most comfortable position as your pregnancy progresses. It also makes your heart's job easier because it keeps the baby's weight from applying pressure to the large vein (called the inferior vena cava) that carries blood back to the heart from your feet and legs.

But don't drive yourself crazy worrying that you might roll over onto your back during the night. Shifting positions is a natural part of sleeping that you can't control.

Try experimenting with pillows to find a comfortable sleeping position. Some women place a pillow under their abdomen or between their legs. Also, using a bunched-up pillow or rolled-up blanket at the small of your back may help to relieve some pressure. In fact, you'll see many "pregnancy pillows" on the market. If you're thinking about buying one, talk with your doctor first about which might work for you.

Over-the-counter sleep aids, including herbal remedies, are not recommended for pregnant women.

Instead, these tips may safely improve your chances of getting a good night's sleep:

  • Cut out caffeinated drinks like soda, coffee, and tea from your diet as much as possible. Restrict any intake of them to the morning or early afternoon.
  • Avoid drinking a lot of fluids or eating a full meal within a few hours of going to bed. (But make sure that you also get plenty of nutrients and liquids throughout the day.) Some women find it helpful to eat more at breakfast and lunch and then have a smaller dinner. If nausea keeps you up, try eating a few crackers before you go to bed.
  • Get into a routine of going to bed and waking up at the same time each day.
  • Avoid rigorous exercise right before you go to bed. Instead, do something relaxing, like reading a book or having a warm, caffeine-free drink, such as milk with honey or a cup of herbal tea.
  • If a leg cramp awakens you, it may help to press your feet hard against the wall or to stand on the leg. Some women find that stretching their calf muscles before bed helps. Also, make sure that you're getting enough calcium and magnesium in your diet, which can help reduce leg cramps. But don't take any supplements without checking with your doctor.
  • Take a yoga class or learn other relaxation techniques to help you unwind after a busy day. (Be sure to discuss any new activity or fitness regimen with your doctor first.)
  • If fear and anxiety are keeping you awake, consider enrolling in a childbirth class or parenting class. More knowledge and the company of other pregnant women may help to ease the fears that keep you awake at night.

What If I Still Can't Sleep?

Of course, there will be times when you just can't sleep. Instead of tossing and turning, worrying that you're not asleep, and counting the hours until your alarm clock will go off, get up and do something calm: read a book, listen to music, or look at a magazine. Eventually, you'll probably feel tired enough to get back to sleep.

And if possible, take short naps (30–60 minutes) during the day. Naps can help you have energy to get through the day and give your body the rest it needs.

Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date Reviewed: May 5, 2022

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