Welcome to the fun world of pregnancy, where you have to re-learn how to do many of the day-to-day (or night-to-night) actions that we all take for granted. Even sleep will become more tricky, and not just because of your growing belly. Having a baby in your belly brings with it changes in your body and life that affect sleeping and even sleeping positions in pregnancy that are optimal for your baby’s growth. Pregnancy is also a time when sleep is more vital than ever, so it’s best to address the matter early and head-on.
First, let’s take a look at sleep issues that may pop up during pregnancy. We will then explore the best position to sleep during pregnancy according to each trimester and even some safe pregnancy sleep aids.
Sleep during pregnancy: possible disruptions
In 1998 one of the most extensive studies was done on pregnant women and sleep patterns to date. It indicated that approximately 78% of women experience sleep issues during pregnancy. The study also explored each trimester and discovered that different issues impacted each. Some general issues pregnant women face include:
Heartburn is a pesky problem that many women experience during pregnancy, especially in the later months. It occurs in pregnant women as increased levels of progesterone cause the valve between the stomach and the esophagus to relax, trapping stomach acid from passing to the esophagus. The problem can be exacerbated in the third trimester as the heavy uterus puts pressure on the intestines and stomach.
Heartburn can cause sleep disruptions because the foods that lead to its onset are often consumed at night and because the burning sensation is so uncomfortable. There are many ways to address it, however. We will look at a few as we dive into the third trimester.
As your belly grows, tossing and turning to find just the right position will become difficult if not impossible. Lot’s of work-arounds and pregnancy sleep aids will be discussed below to help cope.
Insomnia is described by Mayo Clinic as “a common sleep disorder that can make it hard to fall asleep, hard to stay asleep, or cause you to wake up too early and not be able to get back to sleep. You may still feel tired when you wake up. Insomnia can sap not only your energy level and mood but also your health, work performance and quality of life.” The causes are often hard to pinpoint, but can often be tied to life stressors. Because it can hinder your wellbeing so much during pregnancy, it is important to address it if you find yourself unable to sleep for more than a few nights in a row.
Women often experience back pain beginning late in their second trimester of pregnancy. While there are many effective treatments, the discomfort may still reappear during the night, when gravity and pressure irritate. Extra pillows and other tricks described below will help combat the issue and let you get in a good night of sleep during pregnancy.
You may just have a lot on your mind as you journey through your pregnancy. Stress is a major factor contributing to difficulty settling into a good sleeping position during pregnancy and can lead to insomnia. While it is perfectly natural to experience stress and anxiety as you prepare for a new precious little one to join your family, it’s also important to address it, as your baby needs you rested and tip-top while it’s growing in your belly and beyond.
Best sleeping position during pregnancy and issues for each trimester
In the first trimester, your baby will be small enough to allow you to sleep in whatever position is most comfortable. This is particularly preferable as the main issue causing sleep disruption is stress, which we address below. If your racing thoughts are keeping you wide awake, finding a familiar position may be a good way to relax.
That being said, while sleeping on your stomach is safe, you may want to consider getting comfortable with other positions. The stomach will quickly cease to be an option and you want to be prepared.
Potential sleep disturbances
Stress is the leading factor contributing to changes in sleep patterns and insomnia during the first trimester. And it makes sense, the fresh news that a baby is going to be joining you in nine short months is a lot to process.
Because your body will be changing quickly over the next three months and because you will still be going to work and about your normal routine, it is important to nip nighttime stress in the bud and get as much rest as you can. Here are a few ways to clear your mind during your first trimester and get the sleep you need:
- Worry earlier in the day. Depending on your schedule, going for a long, gentle, solo walk in the morning or after work can do wonders to clear the head and let you process life stressors. You may want to consider giving yourself a topic or a specific “worry” to focus on during your walk and move it through and out of your mind. Just make sure to get any movement in at least three hours before bedtime so that the endorphins from exercise don’t keep you up.
- Do a “mindless” or calming activity before bed. While many experts suggest staying away from screens, some people find that watching a familiar sitcom (The Office, anyone?) allows them to shut off. Others prefer listening to a podcast. And while some swear by reading a few chapters in a book is calming enough for sleep, others find reading stimulating. Find something that works for you and make it a part of your evening routine.
- Try a sleep meditation. If you live with your partner, they may also enjoy falling asleep this way. If not, grab your earbuds and give it a try. Our favorite app, Insight Timer, has dozens of sleep meditations, stories, and talks with their free version to help you drift to sleep.
The second trimester will bring a growth spurt in your baby that will herald in the beginning of getting to love your left side. This is the best sleeping position in pregnancy for the following reasons:
- Sleeping on either side, rather than on the stomach or back, allows maximum blood flow and nutrients to the placenta.
- Have you heard of the inferior vena cava? Also known as the IVC, this is the hefty vein that runs along the right side of your spine. It is the vein that carries blood to your heart and baby. Sleeping on your left side is the best sleeping position in pregnancy as it allows for maximum blood flow while you sleep.
- Sleeping on your left side also helps your kidneys perform at their best (this is also related to the IVC), and prevents swelling in hands and feet.
Do note that while the left side is considered the most healthy option, there is no risk of sleeping on your right side. It doesn’t allow as much blood flow to the IVC, but it will not harm your baby’s growth. Get comfortable with your left side, but don’t stress if you find yourself rolling to your right from time to time.
The left side will continue to be the best position to sleep for the rest of your pregnancy. It is important for the reasons mentioned above, but also because sleeping on your back is to be avoided in the third trimester. The back is a no-no because:
- You are going to be carrying a lot of extra weight in the front of your body. Sleeping on your back with the extra baggage can irritate the already-sensitive back and lead to worsening or new hemorrhoids.
- The ICV vein will not function at its best with the pressure created when you sleep on your back. This will reduce blood flow and nutrients to your baby.
- For the same reason, circulation is compromised when sleeping on your back, leading to hypotension in some pregnant women.
While all of the above are good reasons to become close friends with your left side, do not panic if you wake up on your back. Waking up is just a signal that it is time to shift positions and it will not harm your baby. The left side is the best sleeping position in pregnancy, but it is also just a guideline.
Potential sleep disturbances
The third trimester is its own ballgame. While things may have returned somewhat to normal during your second trimester, a variety of new (and annoying) problems may pop up once you put on your nighty in the last months of your pregnancy. Here are a few issues to watch for and how to address them:
Heartburn: For many women, heartburn becomes most severe in the third trimester. If this is your ailment de jour, try attacking it with the following:
- Sleeping in a recliner can ease discomfort caused by heartburn or back pain. Grab a cozy comforter and some memory foam pillows and settle in. Even being slightly propped up with the recliner in a reclined position will lessen the severity of both annoyances.
- Some women swear by cold soda water and bitters to help soothe heartburn. Alternatives include soda water and Torani syrups, lemon, or a dash of grenadine. You could also have sold soda water on its own, but that’s not as fun.
- Dairy products such as yogurt or a glass of milk are popular, and yummy, ways to treat heartburn. The milk or yogurt will cool and coat your throat, possibly adding to quick relief.
Increased need to urinate: Unfortunately, this is a very commonly reported symptom of pregnancy in the third trimester, and one that will keep you getting up at night. The best way to combat the problem is simply to limit fluids in the two hours before you head to bed.
Hello, baby bump! Your belly is going to pop during your third trimester, and pop big time. This extra weight and the bulge can make it hard to get comfortable to sleep for obvious reasons. Prepare for a good night’s rest by investing in some or all of the following:
- Memory foam pillows: these pillows make it easier to sleep as they conform to your body and settles into place as you doze off. Furthermore, they help to promote “proper” alignment of the spine, which will prevent you from becoming uncomfortable in the middle of the night.
- Body pillow: a good body pillow will allow you to prop your legs up in just the right position and prevent tossing, turning, and rolling. They are also highly comforting and can create a soothing time in bed.
- Ergonomic pillow: a pillow designed with ergonomics supports the head and neck in a comfortable, cozy, supported position that promotes proper alignment for the entire spine. This alone may help you to sleep better than you have in ages.
Other pregnancy sleep aids
- Herbal teas: some herbal teas contain the same materials found in some over the counter sleeping aids and can provide a natural solution to restlessness. Others are simply known to aid in the calm, such as chamomile and lemon. Making a small cup of warm tea a part of your shut down routine may go a long way in preparing your body for sleep. Do check with your doctor or midwife before use, as some herbal teas are not recommended for pregnancy.
- Magnesium: this wonder supplement has been studied to be safe for pregnancy and even to lead to positive outcomes. It’s muscle-soothing properties are perfect for preparing your body for sleep. Options for use include supplements, a magnesium salt bath, or a lovely-smelling magnesium spray used as you climb into bed.
- Essential oils: now may be the time to dive into the wonderful world of essential oils and the calming properties that some of them have. Try a lavender spray for your bedding as a starting point.
- Stretching and yoga right before bed: a good stretching practice promotes sleep as it relieves tension in the body and thus lowers stress levels. If you have some stretches you already enjoy, dedicate 15-20 minutes to your yoga mat each night. Or, try one of these online options:
- A high protein or carb snack before bed can promote sleep, prevent heartburn, and lower blood sugar. Try rice cakes with peanut butter, a bowl of Cheerios, a slice of cheese with nuts, or a small handful of crackers with hummus.
- When restlessness becomes too much, get out of bed for 15-30 minutes and do something quiet in another room before returning to bed. It will help to take your mind off the stress of not relaxing and reset the body to try again.
Sleep may never be quite the same as before you were pregnant and your baby has become a part of your life, but developing some healthy habits during your pregnancy will go a long way in helping you get the sleep you need as your journey as a mother.