Having problems sleeping is a very common occurrence during pregnancy, and can happen at any stage. Most often mums-to-be find that they have difficulties in the second half of the pregnancy as their bump grows, baby starts to move and getting comfortable is more of a challenge. But it’s also common for sleeping trouble to start much earlier, even in the first weeks of pregnancy.
There are all sorts of reasons why this can be, ranging from the mental adjustment to being pregnant through to physical changes and even late-night hunger. Knowing that it’s a common problem is of limited help when you need to be fresh for a morning meeting though, and while you could just write sleeplessness off as good preparation for the months and years to come, some simple measures might help you sleep more easily.
1. Try to relax – A tough one, we agree (and we have really been there), but often the fear of not sleeping can contribute to the sleeplessness. Try to remember that most people having trouble sleeping get more rest than they think they’re getting. Often, when you’ve had a fitful night’s sleep, the shallow dreams you have can leave you feeling restless and tired even though you have actually been asleep. If you approach your night’s sleep thinking about the disturbances of the previous night and how important it is to catch up, then you may make it more difficult for yourself to sleep well.
2. Try a warm, milky drink – A warm, milky drink is an age-old remedy for relaxing you into sleep by raising the serotonin level in the brain. A milky drink can also help relieve heartburn, which is another frequent cause of nighttime discomfort. If warm milk and honey isn’t your thing then you could try Horlicks or a similar malted drink. Other milk products and eggs can have a similar effect, though not many people want to eat egg before bedtime.
3. Have a bedtime routine – Preparing your body for sleep can make a big difference. Try to wind down towards the end of the day and let your mind slow down with some light reading, television a bath or massage. Choose your entertainment matter carefully though, anything dark, violent or disturbing may affect your sleep. A few drops of lavender oil in the bathtub may help you sleep, or try spritzing your pillow with a lavender spray. Try saving getting into bed for sleeping or lovemaking: You may think it will be relaxing to watch a bit of television or read in bed, but encouraging associations between the bed and other activities can undermine the ability to sleep there for some people.
4. Ward off hunger – You may not realise it, but if you’re having trouble sleeping you may be hungry. Being pregnant you’ll probably have noticed that you need to eat more often in order to keep your energy up. These needs don’t just stop at nighttime when you’re making a baby. A well-timed suitable snack before bed of oat cookies, crackers, a little whole-grain toast or cereal could make all the difference. And if you wake up in the night and are unable to get back to sleep a small snack could also help. What you don’t want to do however, is to have a big meal too close to bedtime, when digestion might then keep you awake.
5. Check your environment – Being too hot or too cold is another common cause of restlessness at night, and one that you might not be fully aware of. Make sure that you’re using suitable bedding for the time of year – that down quilt might be snug in winter but a bit too much in the summer or early autumn. A hot water bottle might warm your bed nicely before you climb in at night, but it might be wise to remove it once you’re snuggly settled. If you can, leave a window open to prevent the room becoming stuffy and air the room well during the day.
6. Get comfy – You might not need to wait until later in pregnancy for finding a comfy position to be problematic. Even in the early weeks you may prefer a different sleeping position to your usual one, and if you’re usually a front or back sleeper it might help to make the switch to sleeping on your side earlier rather than later. A sufficiently firm mattress can help you get comfortable, and in later pregnancy specially designed maternity pillows can help support your bump in a comfortable position.
7. Exercise! – Yes, it’s the all-conquering remedy again. A little exercise every day will help stimulate you during the day, and make you sleepier at nighttime (provided you don’t exercise too closely to bedtime, which will have the opposite effect). Even as little as a 20-minute walk can have a dramatic difference on your frame of mind and ability to sleep.
8. Time your fluid intake – A common cause of waking in the night during pregnancy is frequent loo trips. If this is something that disturbs you then try to take on more of your daily fluids earlier in the day. Avoiding caffeine makes sense on two counts, not only can it keep you awake, but it’s also a diuretic, so will have you running to the loo more frequently.
9. Try a little music or radio – Many people find that some background noise can help them sleep, whether that’s quietly playing the radio, a soothing piece of music or a sleep time compilation. If the noise bothers your partner then invest in a set of earphones that are comfy enough to wear at night.
10. Clear your head – If you’re being kept awake by a racing mind then try to deal with the issues that are keeping you awake. If you can, get them out of the way before bedtime, but if something you hadn’t thought of earlier is flying around your head and bothering you then get up and get the thoughts out on paper at least, or come up with a plan of action for the next day.
What not to do
1. Lie in bed awake for hours – If you really can’t sleep then don’t wait around in bed to get frustrated. Instead get up and read, clean, watch TV or come on to the MadeForMums forum and see who else is up in the middle of the night.
2. Resort to medication – All the pointers above should help you get a good night’s sleep. If you’re still having problems then talk to your doctor rather than reaching for an alcoholic nightcap, a sleeping pill or a herbal remedy.
3. Give yourself a digestion problem – Eating substantial meals late at night or eating foods that are likely to cause indigestion and wind can make settling to sleep a lot more difficult. If wind is keeping you awake at night then make sure you read our tips on how to avoid it.