As if there aren’t enough things to worry about when you’re expecting, you can add getting a good night’s rest to the list. While difficulty sleeping is a common problem for expectant mothers, research from the University of Pittsburgh suggests that it’s something we should be thinking about more.
The study looks at the role of adequate sleep in maintaining a healthy immune system, and provides evidence to suggest it is an important and complex relationship. It also notes a link between sleep disruption and depression, both of which can increase the risk for birth complications, including low birth weight and pre-term births. For these reasons, the research emphasizes the importance of identifying sleep problems early in pregnancy.
So what exactly are some of the issues keeping expectant mothers from getting decent zzz’s? Dr. Andrea Skorenki, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Grey Nuns Hospital in Edmonton, says common sleep disturbances include the following:
- Increased nasal and airway congestion that can cause snoring and increase the risk of sleep apnea, a disorder that occurs when breathing is repeatedly interrupted during sleep
- Back and pelvic girdle pain
- Heartburn, also known as nocturnal gastroesophageal reflux (nighttime GERD)
- Restless leg syndrome (RLS)
- Reduced bladder capacity, calling for repeated bathroom trips
- Baby’s movements
Time for Some Proper Slumber
Dr. Skorenki offers some tips to help you nod off:
- Stay hydrated. This can reduce the frequency of leg cramps. (It might seem like a double-edged sword, what with the baby setting up camp on your bladder, but sore, restless legs means less sleep than getting up to pee.)
- Be strategic with your pillows. Using a body pillow, or putting pillows between your knees and under your belly, can make side sleeping more comfortable. You can also consider elevating the top of your bedframe to reduce heartburn. As your pregnancy progresses, certain sleeping positions will become less comfortable; use different-sized pillows to support your changing body, in order to get the rest you need.
- Think good thoughts. Meditation or mindfulness exercises can reduce anxiety and slow a racing mind. Keeping a pen and paper next to the bed is a good idea. It allows you to write down thoughts that are keeping you up so you can worry a little less.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, February 2015.