Sleeping Well When You're Pregnant

August 16, 2018

Currently pregnant or know someone expecting? We examine the impact pregnancy has on sleep along with some tips to help improve the quality of slumber.


The Takeaways:

  • Getting a good night’s sleep when you’re pregnant is tough: 76% of pregnant women have poor sleep quality.

  • Pregnant women take three times longer to fall asleep at night, and wake up about 3 times a night on average

  • Acid reflux (heartburn), leg cramps, back and hip pain, and baby movement can all contribute to poor sleep quality.  

  • 80% of pregnant women report that they take daytime naps at least once a week to make up for lost sleep at night.

  • Reducing screen and light exposure before bed and using pillows to get into more comfortable sleeping positions can help you fall asleep faster and stay that way longer.


Most parents expect that once their baby is born, any hope of a good night’s sleep will go out the window. But what many people don’t realize is that for pregnant women, sleep quality starts to go downhill long before the baby makes an appearance. In fact, pregnant women actually have much higher rates of poor sleep quality (76%) than new mothers (55%). Sleep disturbances, poor sleep quality, and daytime sleepiness are all common during pregnancy, with 40% of women getting insufficient sleep. So it’s no surprise that sleep is the number one topic of conversation among pregnant women!


In a study of 2,400 moms-to-be in different stages of pregnancy, all reported frequent nighttime awakenings with the most frequent causes being an uncomfortable sleeping position or the need to urinate. On average, pregnant women wake up between two and three times a night, for a total of 70 minutes. The average pregnant woman also takes more than three times as long as the average person to fall asleep each night (45 minutes vs. 14 minutes). This means that every night, pregnant women are awake for almost two hours that they would normally be asleep. Not surprisingly, half of all women in the study reported regular daytime sleepiness.


In general, sleep quality, sleep length, and nighttime waking get worse as pregnancy goes on, due to things like more frequent need to urinate, acid reflux, leg cramps, back and hip pain, baby movement, and uncomfortable sleeping positions. On the other hand, nighttime awakenings and nausea both peak in the second month and decrease afterwards, so at least something gets better over time!


Unfortunately, the decrease in sleep quality that comes with pregnancy is tough to avoid, but there are some techniques that may help. We recommend that all mothers-to-be meet with their doctor to discuss their sleep habits and symptoms, so they can get suggestions and ensure that their sleep is the best it can be.


The best way to combat lost sleep is to consider going to bed earlier or waking up later so that even with a frequent nighttime awakening, you can manage to get enough sleep. Napping during the day can help, too, if you have the option. As many as 80% of pregnant women supplement their poor nighttime sleep with daytime naps. Another tip: cut out sources of artificial light during the night, and limit artificial light exposure from LEDs and screens 90 minutes before bed. Doing this will make it easier for you to fall asleep.


There are a few things you can do to stay asleep longer during the night. It’s difficult to prevent urination during the night because of the huge amounts of water pregnant women have to drink to stay hydrated, but not drinking anything within an hour of bedtime may help. There’s also the problem of trying to get comfortable. The back and the hips are often the source of the most aching, so supporting them at night can help you sleep better at night and feel better during the day. Many women invest in special pregnancy pillows or “body pillows,” but you can get the same effect by wedging one pillow under your belly (while lying on your side) and another one between your knees. This reduces the strain on the back and hips and will make falling and staying asleep easier.


It seems unfair that good sleep is hard to come by during pregnancy, since as soon as there’s a newborn on the scene, interrupted sleep is a given. But by getting to bed early, minimizing light exposure, napping when you can, and making yourself more comfortable can help you get the best sleep possible, so you’re well rested for the big day and everything that comes after it.


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