One of the many changes people who are pregnant experience is a move toward more turbulent sleep. It often happens later in pregnancy, but sleep can also take a hit earlier on. Shifting hormones can affect sleep patterns and can also lead to issues from heartburn to frequent urination that can keep pregnant people up in all three trimesters.
To a certain extent, there are limits as to what you can do about it. And yet, simple tweaks can make a huge difference in ensuring you get enough high-quality sleep. Here are five of them:
1. Try a maternity pillow
With all of the changes that happen in the body during pregnancy, maternity pillows can be a real sleep saver. They offer added support, most often to the stomach, hips, knees and back. And while they’re not medically necessary by any means, they can help you get comfortable at night.
It might take a bit of trial and error to find a pillow that provides the right kind of support for you and your sleep style. For example, there are different options for those who tend to sleep on their stomach versus those who sleep on their sides. (Some experts recommend that people avoid sleeping on their back to the extent it’s possible during pregnancy, though not everyone agrees that is necessary.)
Many women find that simply piling up standard pillows or placing one between their knees can offer ample support.
2. Eat small, frequent meals throughout the day
Many pregnant people have difficulty falling and staying asleep because they’re grappling with heartburn. Up to 72% of pregnant people experience indigestion in the third trimester, but it can strike earlier, too.
That’s because pregnancy hormones relax the valve at the entrance to the stomach so it doesn’t necessarily close like it should. That lets acid move into the oesophagus, causing that burning sensation. Heartburn also tends to get worse later in pregnancy, as the uterus grows and puts extra pressure on the stomach.
Eating small, frequent meals throughout the day can help. (Consider six instead of three.) It keeps the stomach from getting too full and can help prevent excessive stomach acid production.
3. Make sure you’re hydrating – but not right before bed
Staying hydrated is important during pregnancy for a number of reasons. Water helps circulate nutrients throughout the body and helps form the amniotic fluid around the baby. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends aiming for eigh to 12 cups a day.
But hydration can also play a specific and important role in pregnancy sleep. Leg cramps are a problem for many people in the second and third trimesters — especially at night — and getting enough water can help.
Finding a balance is key. If you drink too much water right before bed, you’re more likely to have to get up and pee – and frequent urination is one of the most common complaints of pregnancy. It can start really early on as the pregnancy hormone human chorionic gonadotropin, or HCG, increases the blood flow to the pelvic area. Later in pregnancy, the growing uterus can put pressure on the bladder, further leading to more frequent peeing.
4. Elevate your head
People who are pregnant have a higher risk of obstructive sleep apnea – the most common sleep-related breathing disorder, which causes people to repeatedly stop then start breathing while they sleep. Hormonal changes can cause the mucus membranes to swell, leading to nasal congestion and generally making it harder to breathe.
One simple fix? Make sure your head is elevated while you sleep. You can do that with pillows, of course, but experts also say that raising the head of your bed can help, too. Aim to do so by about four inches.
5. Lower the thermostat
Many people feel hotter than usual during pregnancy, due to everything from hormonal shifts to changes in blood volume.
“Pregnant women’s bodies are working harder, creating more heat to dispel, even when they’re sitting still,” Dr. Heather Johnson, an OB-GYN with Advantia Health, told Verywell Family.
If you’re having a difficult time falling or staying asleep, try lowering the thermostat a bit or turning on the air conditioner or a fan. For optimal rest, experts generally advise that your sleep environment be somewhere between 15-20°C/
Making those kinds of small changes can help you get the sleep your body needs while you’re pregnant, but, if you’re still struggling to get rest, talk to your doctor or midwife. They’ll be able to chat with you about your particular challenges and circumstances and help you come up with solutions.