How does pregnancy affect sleep?

Last Updated on August 24, 2021

When you are pregnant, it doesn’t take long for your body to change. You will experience morning sickness, frequent urination, and other symptoms that make it difficult to sleep before the baby bump even starts showing.

Sleeping can be difficult for pregnant women. Physical discomfort, changing hormones, excitement and stress about being a new mother can lead to sleep issues during the night. Today almost 50% of pregnant women worldwide suffer from insomnia.

Generally speaking, rest is an essential part of prenatal care. However, you are not alone if you’re having trouble sleeping during your pregnancy. That’s why in today’s guide, we’ll discuss ‘How does pregnancy affect sleep’ as well as the common sleep problems and best pregnancy sleeping positions. 

How does pregnancy affect sleep?

How does pregnancy affect sleep?

Quality, quantity, and the nature of sleep all change as a result of pregnancy. These conditions may get worse for those with an underlying sleep disorder. Multiple sleep issues first appear during pregnancies. As the pregnancy progresses, these issues tend to increase in duration and frequency.

Almost all women notice increased nighttime waking’s, especially during the third trimester, resulting in excessive daytime sleepiness and fatigue. There are several factors that can also lead to insomnia while you are expecting. It can be challenging to fall asleep and stay asleep when hormone levels fluctuate. In addition, being pregnant is typically associated with nausea, breast tenderness, cramps, frequent urination, shortness of breath, etc. 

As time goes on, expectant mothers may experience back pain and have trouble finding a comfortable position to accommodate their growing belly. Being a new mother, juggling work and home responsibilities, or other worries may keep your mind racing when it’s time for rest. Many pregnant women have vivid, disturbing dreams in the third trimester that can affect sleep quality.

It is common for most women to experience at least a few of the above symptoms, but sometimes they are related to sleep disorders. If you are experiencing any symptoms of sleep disorders, it is essential to talk to your doctor.

How do hormones affect your sleep?

How do hormones affect your sleep?

Any pregnant woman can attest to the dramatic hormonal changes that occur during the pregnancy. These changes affect many aspects of your body and brain, including your mood, physical appearance, and metabolism. Hormones can also affect your sleep pattern and disrupt your rest.

The hormone progesterone might contribute to frequent urination, heartburn, and nasal congestion, which can affect your slumber. It also reduces REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the stage of sleep characterized by vivid dream imagery, decreases wakefulness and reduces the amount of time it takes you to fall asleep.

Another crucial hormone in pregnancy is estrogen. Unfortunately, it also affects your rest because it makes your blood vessels larger (a process called vasodilation). This can lead to swelling in the feet and legs, as well as increased congestion of the nose and disrupted breathing during sleep.

There are other hormones that might change while you are excepting, with varying effects. For example, there are studies showing that melatonin levels are higher during pregnancy. Also, increased levels of prolactin in your body might lead to more slow-wave sleep. Decreases in your slumber can be caused by higher oxytocin levels, which may also lead to a higher incidence of labour and delivery during the night.

What are the possible sleep issues during pregnancy?

What are the possible sleep problems during pregnancy?

There are some important symptoms and sleep disorders that can appear while you are caring. In pregnancy, sleep disorders such as sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome can get worse. Some pregnant women may suffer from a sleep disorder for the first time in their life. These issues can be broken down by trimester and finish up with the effects of labour and delivery.

First Trimester

The first trimester of a pregnant woman’s life can result in fatigue and daytime sleepiness. Studies show that women who have low levels of iron before they become pregnant will be more tired. More than 35% of pregnant women complain of being sleepy at 6 to 7 weeks, which is thought to be related to the increased levels of the hormone progesterone.

There are various physical changes that can undermine sleep, including nausea and morning sickness, back pain, breast tenderness, increased appetite, and anxiety. In addition, if the pregnancy was not planned or if there is a lack of support, anxiety can worsen, resulting in insomnia.

Second Trimester

During the second trimester of a pregnant woman’s life, sleep generally improves. As energy levels improve, nausea and urinary frequencies decline. At the end of this period, women are more likely to experience stomach pain that can affect their rest. The movements of the fetus, heartburn, and snoring due to nasal congestion can also have an effect. During this time, many women have improved their mood and energy levels.

Third Trimester

During the final trimester, sleep becomes restless and disturbed. More than a quarter of pregnant women will have restless leg syndrome during this time, and multiple nighttime awakenings will affect nearly 100% of them. Numerous issues can affect your rest, such as shortness of breath, leg cramps, heartburn, body pains, itching, vivid dreams, and anxiety. 

It may be hard to find a comfortable sleep position, and you might need to find good pillows to support your back and neck. In addition, many excepting women will experience nocturnal heartburn or gastro-oesophagal reflux disease (GERD). 

Labour & Delivery

Delivery and labour can also have a negative effect on your sleep. Many women will experience labour pains (forceful contractions) in the night due to the elevation of the hormone oxytocin. The pain and anxiety associated with labour may affect sleep, and the medications used during this time may impact rest. Despite the use of sleep aids, many pregnant women are unable to sleep while labouring.

What’s the best sleeping position when you’re expecting?

What’s the best sleeping position when you’re pregnant?

The best sleeping position for a pregnant woman is on the left side, with her legs curled. The position facilitates the flow of blood and improves the delivery of oxygen and nutrition to the fetus. It is also acceptable to sleep on your right side during pregnancy. However, it is not as optimal as your left side.

If you are not used to sleeping on your side, a few extra pillows might be helpful. If you want to relieve the pressure from your lower back, try adding a thin pillow between the knees or tuck in a wedge pillow. Generally, women find it helpful to place a pillow under their lower back.

Sleeping on the back can cause backache and put pressure on the vena cava as the uterus grows bigger. The vena cava is one of the main veins in the body, so it can cause dizziness and interfere with blood flow. Avoiding back and stomach sleeping is advisable. It is impractical for pregnant women to sleep on their stomachs once the baby bump grows in size.

Bottom line

During the nine months between conception and delivery, your sleep schedule might be less than ideal. Many women experience sleepless nights before there is a hungry, crying infant in the picture. Your labour and delivery could be affected by the amount of sleep you get during your pregnancy.

Sleep becomes harder to come by as your body grows, especially in the third trimester because it’s challenging to get comfortable. It’s harder to move around and shift positions while you are in bed. Also, it can be hard to adjust to sleeping on your side if you have been a stomach or back sleeper your entire life. However, if you are pregnant, the best position to sleep in is on your left side. This improves blood flow and, therefore, nutrient flow for your little one.

We hope we were able to answer the how and why, and now it’s our turn to hear from you if any questions regarding the subject were left unanswered. If you want to share some information, we would gladly hear about it in the comments below.

Isabelle Harris
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