Written by Dr Anna Cantlay
How unfair that when you need to rest the most, sleep seems to elude you! Difficulty falling or staying asleep is unfortunately a common issue for many expectant mothers desperate to bank sleep before a newborn arrives.
It can affect you at any time during your pregnancy, but is often more common in the second and third trimesters when pregnancy-related symptoms from your growing belly might start to affect your ability to sleep. Pregnancy insomnia may be transient for some women, or in some cases last weeks or months. It’s important to chat to your midwife or doctor if you are struggling to see If they can make recommendations to help, particularly given the importance of sleep on mental health.
What causes pregnancy insomnia?
Pregnancy insomnia can be caused by a variety of different factors – hormonal but also due to the effects of your growing bump. These can include:
- Needing to pee more frequently in the night due to pressure on your bladder
- Gastro-oesophageal reflux worsening when you lie down
- Back or joint aches
- Round ligament pain
- Leg cramps
- Tender breasts
- Perinatal anxiety or low depression
- An active baby kicking you
- Difficulty getting comfortable with your growing baby
Good sleep hygiene is fundamental
Whatever the cause of insomnia, practicing good sleep hygiene is really important at helping you get a good night’s sleep. Setting a consistent sleep schedule can help your brain and body switch off and start producing melatonin to help you sleep. My top tips are:
- Eat your evening meal 3 hours before bed and avoid foods that might be tough on the digestive system such as spicy food and heavy meals.
- Have a digital detox at least 90 minutes before bed – no screens at all!
- Provide an evening environment to help get your body ready for sleep – dim the lighting, have a bath, read a book or listen to relaxing music.
- Make sure you get out into natural light throughout the day – this is really important for keeping your circadian rhythm or natural sleep-wake cycle healthy.
- Avoid caffeine after 1pm.
- Sort out your bedroom – make sure it’s dark and quiet, a good temperature (studies have shown 18c to be optimal) and invest in good bed-linen and a pregnancy pillow which can be a game changer for helping you to get comfortable.
- Try to do some exercise and stay active each day. This has been proven to improve sleep quality.
Related content: Staying active into the third trimester.
Can supplements help with pregnancy insomnia?
Magnesium is a mineral that is essential for processes throughout the body, including the nervous system. Whilst the role of Magnesium supplements as a sleep aid is uncertain, there are a few encouraging studies that have shown Magnesium supplements may help improve sleep quality and restless leg syndrome.
Most of us get enough Magnesium from out diet. If you are going to try a supplement, you want to make sure you are not exceeding the recommended daily allowance. Depending on your age, this is between 350-400 milligrams a day.
In the UK, melatonin is only available on prescription and often only prescribed for >55 years of age with insomnia or some other adults and children on a case-by-case basis. It’s safety in pregnancy has not been well researched and therefore it is not normally recommended.
Related content: Do I need extra vitamins when I am pregnant?
Can I take a sleeping tablet?
Pregnant women are generally advised to avoid medications, including sleeping tablets, when pregnant. However, if the sleeping problem becomes serious or long term, do speak to your doctor who might offer a medication called promethazine to help you sleep.
Research has shown that in the third trimester (from 28weeks), sleeping on your back can increase your risk of stillbirth. This is because the uterus can put pressure on the abdominal blood vessels and this can affect the circulation to your baby and to your heart. It’s best to sleep on your side at this stage of pregnancy.
“Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. For The Creators has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions.”