Beat pregnancy insomnia

Want to get some much-needed shut-eye while you still can? Try our guide to beating your pregnancy sleep-wreckers.

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Does being pregnant mean you’re having trouble getting a good night’s sleep? If so, you’re not alone – 97% of mums-to-be do too, according to a joint study at St Joseph’s University, Philadelphia and Delaware County Memorial Hospital, USA.

But the sleep disruption you’re experiencing now isn’t just preparing you for life with a baby. Another study found it’s likely to be due to an array of conditions – with many women waking up three to five times a night due to back pains, leg cramps, heartburn or vivid dreams. The good news is these problems can be solved – or at least improved. So follow our advice and reclaim your nights – while you still can!

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Problem: Feeling uncomfy

You toss, turn and wriggle – but you still can’t fall asleep. This is usually caused by a combination of the weight of your bump and not being used to sleeping on your side.

Solution: ‘After 28 weeks, your body’s centre of gravity shifts forward, so the muscles in your lower back, buttocks and outer hips become tense, especially at night as blood flow to your muscles is compromised,’ says osteopath Geoffrey Montague-Smith, a specialist in birth preparation and foetal positioning techniques. ‘Sit cross-legged or kneel on all fours over a bean bag or birthing ball for a while before bed. This helps blood flow to the pelvis and relaxes the muscles.’

You can buy an Active Birth Ball, plus pump, £29.95, from the Active Birth Centre. Visit www.activebirthcentre.com

Problem: Heartburn

This burning feeling behind the breastbone and in the throat after eating is common during pregnancy. It’s caused by hormone changes that weaken the valve between your oesophagus and stomach and means that stomach acid rises back up your oesophagus. It’s often worse if you lie down.

Solution: Prop up your head so it’s at least six inches higher than usual – this will stop acid flowing back into the throat as you sleep,’ says Dr John Bennett, chairman of Core, the Digestive Disorders Foundation. ‘Gaviscon tablets, from chemists, can also help. They’re made of alginic acid, a substance that coats your stomach and helps stop acid rising.’ Gaviscon is safe to take during pregnancy.

Problem: Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)

More than a quarter of mums-to-be suffer from this horrible niggling feeling in their legs, according to a study from St Joseph’s University, USA. The syndrome produces an overwhelming urge to move just as you’re nodding off, leading to exhaustion, frustration and anxiety and experts believe the cause could be nutritional.

Solution: ‘Up your iron intake,’ says midwifery lecturer Maggie Evans. ‘One American study, at the Penn State College of Medicine, showed that iron deficiency can contribute to RLS. You may not have been diagnosed as anaemic but your iron stores could still be low, as studies show 30% of pregnant women don’t get enough iron in their diets.

‘To build up you iron stores, eat more red meat, lentils, soya, leafy green veg and dried apricots. And drink orange juice, as vitamin C helps with iron absorption.’

Nettle tea is also said to help alleviate RLS. You can buy this in tea bags from health food shops. For an iron supplement for pregnancy try Spatone, £6.49, available from most chemists and health food shops. Always check with your GP or midwife first before taking any supplements.

Problem: Anxiety dreams

You’ve got a lot on your mind, so it’s hardly surprising that your dreams are more vivid and anxious than usual. But there are physical factors at work here, too. Increased levels of progesterone and oestrogen actually encourage your body to go into longer periods of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep – the phase in which you experience vivid dreams. What’s more, pregnancy niggles make you more likely than usual to wake up during the night – so you’re more likely to remember dreams more vividly.

Solution: ‘Create a routine for yourself that helps switch off stress and anxiety in the evenings,’ says Dr Neil Stanley, sleep expert at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

Problem: Leg cramps

These muscle spasms occur in the calves or feet while you’re asleep. Painful and intense, the muscles tighten for a variety of reasons, such as dehydration, muscle strain, or staying in the same position too long. Usually however they’re caused by the extra weight of pregnancy adding stress to your leg muscles throughout the day.

Solution: Stretching out your calf and foot muscles every night before going to bed will reduce the risk of cramping. Try the following easy stretch: sit on the floor or against the wall with your back straight, both legs straight out in front of you and your hands at your sides for support. Rest your straight left leg on your right leg and push your left heel towards the wall, bringing your toes towards you. Hold for 30 seconds and then swap legs. Avoid pointing your toes as this will cause the calf muscles to contract.

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There’s a theory that leg cramps may be caused by low potassium levels. A medium-size banana and a tall glass of milk will give you the recommended daily amount of potassium. 

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