Pregnancy insomnia is when a woman has trouble sleeping. It’s thought to affect up to 78% of pregnant women at some point during their pregnancy.
Peer reviewed research shows it most commonly starts during the first trimester. It can continue all the way through the third trimester of pregnancy.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) shows sleep disorders are more common in women due to changing hormone levels during pregnancy.
If you’re in that 78%, you probably know only too well how infuriating it is each time someone tells you to ‘get plenty of sleep now, because you won’t be able to once the baby arrives!’
It’s frustrating being wide awake all night, especially when you’re feeling exhausted all day. Whose cruel joke is this?
If you need some help with insomnia during pregnancy, here are some tips and information to help get to the bottom of it.
What causes insomnia in pregnancy?
11 common pregnancy symptoms that could be keeping you up at night:
#1: Frequent urination
With an enlarged uterus pressing down on your bladder, it’s no wonder you have to visit the bathroom more often.
Some women blame frequent bathroom trips for their lack of sleep during pregnancy, especially during the final trimester. Having to get out of bed frequently and then trying to fall asleep again can affect your sleep quality.
Trying to find a comfortable sleep position in bed when you’re hauling a baby and placenta around with you can be challenging, to say the least.
During the third trimester it is recommended you don’t sleep on your back, to avoid reduced blood flow to your baby. When you have to lie in an awkward sleeping position it can cause you back pain and become a sleep problem.
#3: Leg cramps
If you keep waking up in bed feeling as though your legs are broken, you might be experiencing leg cramps. These are most common in the second and third trimester, although some women experience them as early as the first trimester.
#4: Restless legs syndrome
If feeling like your legs are broken isn’t bad enough, you can also suffer from restless legs syndrome while lying in bed. Your legs have an uncontrollable urge to move constantly, which can make it really hard to relax.
Check out our article Restless Legs During Pregnancy for more information.
Recent research shows iron supplements can be helpful in the treatment of restless legs syndrome. Your pregnancy health carer or doctor may be able to see whether this is a possible solution for you.
#5: Strange dreams
Some women report having some pretty bizarre dreams during pregnancy.
Interrupted sleep patterns and anxiety about birth and motherhood are thought to contribute to these unusual and extravagant dreams.
#6: Baby acrobatics
Babies are lulled to sleep by movement. You might find your baby wakes up as soon as you sit down for a rest.
As you get further into the pregnancy – around the third trimester – baby’s movements will become stronger and more deliberate. This can cause you sleep problems and sleep deprivation.
Some degree of anxiety is considered to be normal during pregnancy, as women prepare for birth and motherhood.
You might lie awake at night worrying about the health of your baby, about how you will cope during labour, or whether you are ready to be a mother.
Even though it should be a time for calm and relaxation, pregnancy is often fraught with stress. You might be battling with a growing to-do list, while trying to get ready for maternity leave, prepare for motherhood, and keep the house tidy.
Negative emotions might keep you awake at night, but so will the positive ones. Excitement could be playing a part in increasing your sleep debt, too. Daydreaming during pregnancy can be a full-time job, so maybe your hopes and dreams for the future are keeping you awake at night.
Are you trying to combat fatigue during pregnancy with stimulants like caffeine? Or are you eating and drinking other foods that throw your natural energy and sleep hygiene right off track? What you’re eating and drinking can have a huge effect on both fatigue and insomnia.
#11: Breast tenderness
Some pregnant women find their sleep hygiene is affected because their breasts become tender as their pregnancy progresses.
If this is something that is affecting your sleep and causing insomnia in pregnancy, read our article When Do Your Breasts Stop Hurting In Pregnancy.
Try to identify which of the above causes could be contributing to your case of pregnancy insomnia. It may help you find a more effective solution, rather than seeking general bandaid remedies for insomnia.
What helps with insomnia during pregnancy?
There is no way to guarantee yourself a full eight hours of uninterrupted blissful snoozing. There are several things you can do, though, to minimise your sleep disturbances.
Insomnia tip #1: Don’t drink before bed
If frequent bathroom trips are keeping you awake, try to limit your fluid intake a few hours before bedtime.
Insomnia tip #2: Reduce your caffeine intake
Avoid caffeine in the hours leading up to bedtime. Chocolate, coffee, tea, and soft drink/soda all contain caffeine; this could be keeping you awake at night. To find out about the safe limits of coffee during pregnancy, read Coffee and Pregnancy – Is Coffee During Pregnancy OK?.
Insomnia tip #3: Vitamins and a healthy, balanced diet
That pesky leg cramping could be caused by an insufficient intake of certain vitamins and minerals – for example, magnesium. Take a good quality prenatal vitamin daily (ideally a brand your naturopath recommends), to make sure you are getting all the nutrients your body needs.
It’s also important to eat a healthy, balanced diet. Make sure you include enough protein, organic fresh fruit and vegetables, good fats, and dark leafy greens.
Insomnia tip #4: Drink plenty of water
You should drink eight glasses of water per day during pregnancy. Dehydration can contribute to your leg cramps, so make sure you are getting enough water throughout the day.
If you install a water filter in your home, your water will be healthier and taste better too.
Insomnia tip #5: Exercise every day
To promote more restful sleep, you should aim to have at least thirty minutes of exercise every day – ideally first thing in the morning. You could sign up for a prenatal yoga class, go for a swim each day, or even just walk home from work. If 30 minutes seems like too much, start small.
Think of it this way – a 20 minute walk means you spend 10 minutes going one way, then you turn around and head back again. Exercise releases ‘feel-good’ hormones, and exposure to vitamin D from the sun will have the same positive effect.
Both exercise and vitamin D from the sun also helps to reduce your chances of depression and anxiety. Once you start walking, you’ll probably feel much better. You might even feel motivated to do more than 20 or 30 minutes.
Insomnia tip #6: Manage your to-do list
Instead of lying awake worrying about all the things you haven’t done, write down a comprehensive to-do list. Work out what you can do, and set yourself a realistic schedule. Having a plan helps you to feel in more control and reduce your stress levels, enabling you to get a good night’s sleep.
Insomnia tip #7: Open up
If you are lying awake at night feeling anxious, stressed, or worried, tell someone. Being honest about your feelings may help you to process them better, and enable you to get your stress levels under control. Talk about your worries with your partner, close friends, and family; their reassurance might help you feel less anxious.
Insomnia tip #8: Have a warm bath each evening
At the end of the day, you need time to wind down and relax. Having a soak in the bath is the perfect way to do this. Not only will you emerge feeling relaxed and refreshed, but you might also notice some relief from your backache and pains.
Insomnia tip #9: Use pillows
You have a baby bump to support now, so the two pillows you normally use aren’t going to cut it. Adding extra pillows to support your bump, and placing one between your knees, may help you sleep better, and get comfortable at night.
You could also invest in one of those made-for-purpose body pillows, or just use a couple of normal pillows.
Insomnia tip #10: Try relaxation exercises
Relaxation exercises will come in useful during labour too, so there’s no harm in learning some now, to try to improve your sleep quality if you experience insomnia.
Learn some techniques to help slow down your breathing, and leave you feeling relaxed.
Insomnia tip #11: Get up and do something else
Reading a book in bed often makes falling asleep easier. If you really cannot sleep, then get up and go into a different room. Find something else to occupy yourself until you feel drowsy, then go back into your bedroom and try again.
Insomnia tip #12: Sleep at different times
Have a lie-in after a bad night, go to bed early if you feel tired, and nap during the day if you have time. Most workplaces will try to accommodate pregnant women’s needs, such as more frequent bathroom breaks. Speak to your boss about flexible working, and explain that you’re struggling to sleep at night.
Insomnia tip #13: Turn off electronic devices
Whether you are pregnant or not, electronic devices and screens will stimulate your mind and interrupt your normal sleep pattern. Give yourself an hour away from screens and devices before bedtime, and make sure all your devices are switched off or on silent – ideally in another room. Instead, create rituals for restful sleep as mentioned in this article.
For example, spend the last hour before bed in a warm bath, sipping a herbal tea. Find out which teas are safe and which are best to avoid in our article on tea during pregnancy).
Instead of staring at screens, indulge in your favourite books while snuggled up in bed, or ask your partner for a massage to help you sleep.
Insomnia tip #14: Acupuncture
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been around for so much longer than modern medicine and is recognised by the World Health Organization as a treatment for many conditions in pregnancy.
There’s nothing alternative about TCM. Acupuncture, for example, is a fantastic remedy for insomnia in pregnancy and for other health complaints where the body is out of balance.
Acupuncture is a service that has the added benefit of helping you to identify the underlying cause, as well as being able to diagnose any other physical concerns you might have.
Insomnia tip #15: Get some regular massage or osteopathy
If you are stressed or anxious, or perhaps you don’t even know the reason why you can’t sleep, regular massage or osteopathy can help to relax your body and your mind.
An osteopath can see whether there are any muscular or structural problems that might result in you feeling more tense, uncomfortable, or stressed. Search for someone who has relevant experience in pregnancy work, and seek a ‘cranio-sacral’ osteopath, if you can.
Insomnia tip #16: Try not to worry
Yes, it’s hard, but most women experience pregnancy insomnia. Being a little short on sleep won’t put your baby at risk, but you need to get as much rest as possible. Stress can affect your sleep hygiene so try to reduce the amount of stress in your life.
Insomnia tip #17: Speak to your doctor
Your sleep problems could be due to a medical condition called sleep apnea. Research from Sleep Medicine Reviews has shown sleep apnea affects 15-20% of pregnant women with increased BMI in the US. It’s also known as obstructive sleep apnea, as it is caused by a reduction in airflow during sleep due to a collapse in the upper airway.
Sleep apnea is fairly common due to weight gain as pregnancy progresses, especially in the third trimester. It’s a sleep disorder that causes pregnancy insomnia as it affects your sleep hygiene. See your doctor for help.
Ask your doctor to provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment if you start to feel exhausted and are still unable to sleep. Your doctor can collect your personal data to help you determine whether the problems you have with sleep during pregnancy are an easy fix or a more serious concern.