How to deal with sleep problems during pregnancy

By Kayla Wemp on February 17, 2015


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 that suggests it is an important and complex relationship. It also notes a link between sleep disruption and depression, both of which can become problems in increasing 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 sleeping? Dr. Andrea Skorenki, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Grey Nuns Hospital in Edmonton, says common sleep disturbances include:

  • 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)
  • Anxiety
  • Reduced bladder capacity causing you to get up to the bathroom repeatedly
  • Baby’s movements

Time for Some Zzzzs

Dr. Skorenki offers some tips to help you nod off:

  • Invest in a CPAP machine to improve breathing if you have sleep apnea.
  • Stay hydrated. This can reduce the frequency of leg cramps.
  • Be strategic with your pillows. Using a body pillow or putting a pillow between your knees can make side sleeping more comfortable. Elevate your head with pillows to reduce heartburn.
  • Think good thoughts. Meditation or mindfulness exercises can reduce anxiety and a racing mind. Sometimes 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 stop worrying about them.
  • Get into position. Your body will let you know when certain positions are no longer good for you. For example, if you are a stomach sleeper, that position will eventually get uncomfortable. The best position is sleeping on your side, especially the left side. This allows better bloodflow to reach the placenta and the baby. Sleeping on your back will increase problems with the back, digestive system, low blood pressure and breathing.


Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, February 2015.

By Kayla Wemp| February 17, 2015

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