Everything You Need to Know About Pregnancy Insomnia (And How to Treat It)

Your body might be fighting sleep in the first or third trimesters — but all hope isn't lost.

Everything You Need to Know About Pregnancy Insomnia (And How to Fight It)
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To all you middle-of-the-night Googlers, welcome. You're in good company if you're also experiencing pregnancy insomnia: It affects up to 80% of people at some point during pregnancy, according to research.

Pregnancy insomnia — a persistent pattern of trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up early — is common during the first trimester when your body is adjusting to the sudden rush of pregnancy hormones, and in some cases, the morning (or all-day) sickness you might be experiencing. And it's even more likely that you'll have issues sleeping during the third trimester, as you get closer to delivery and have the anxiety and physical discomfort that goes along with it.

Here, some of the culprits of your pregnancy insomnia, and the best ways you can treat it, whether you have six more months to go or are about to deliver any day.

What causes pregnancy insomnia?

Being pregnant in general (especially during a pandemic) may cause you stress and anxiety: about your health, your baby's health, about delivery, or about being a parent. And that doesn't help with your sleeping habits, says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, an ob-gyn and clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at Yale School of Medicine. But being uncomfortable, particularly as you get further along, may prevent you from finding the right sleeping positions and is likely a big reason you're having trouble staying asleep.

Of course, there are plenty of other discomforts during pregnancy, like nausea or constipation, that could contribute to insomnia and restlessness. Pregnancy heartburn is also a thing you might end up dealing with. "The acid in the stomach refluxes into the esophagus because the valve between the stomach and the esophagus relaxes with the hormones of pregnancy," Dr. Minkin explains. And if you've ever tried to drift off to sleep with heartburn, you know that it's no picnic.

The symptoms that cause insomnia may vary throughout each trimester. During the first trimester, feeling sick may keep you awake, along with the hormonal changes your body is undergoing in early pregnancy. "It's often nausea and vomiting that are the culprits in the first trimester, along with elevated levels of progesterone that can cause increased daytime sleepiness and nighttime insomnia," says Jane van Dis, M.D., an ob-gyn and Modern Fertility medical advisor. Pregnancy insomnia tends to hit hardest in the third trimester, she adds. It can often be attributed to back pain and discomfort, heartburn, leg cramps or restless legs, needing to get up to pee frequently because of pressure on your bladder, and anxiety leading up to delivery. All the fun stuff about pregnancy!

It's best to track your insomnia symptoms, and take note if they get really serious, including blurred vision, severe headaches, or sharp pain in the upper right side of your abdomen, says Dr. van Dis. Contact your ob-gyn if you experience any of these symptoms, or if the insomnia is becoming a major disruption to your daily routine.

So, how do you treat pregnancy insomnia?

While treating pregnancy insomnia is similar to treating insomnia outside of pregnancy, it's not safe for people who are pregnant to use supplements like CBD or melatonin. Luckily, there are a few other ways you can regulate your sleep schedule and your comfort.

Get comfy pillows.

The first thing you have control over is how cozy your bed is when you're trying to get to sleep. Invest in a full-body pillow that will offer support, especially for your abdomen and back, the experts say. Try this one from Boppy or splurge on this Yana organic pregnancy pillow.

Sleep on your side.

Laying on your side, with a pillow in between your legs, is another great position to try during pregnancy. "This can ease backaches, heartburn, and improve circulation and reduce foot swelling," says Dr. van Dis. If that doesn't work for you and you want to sleep on your back, sleeping on some couches may offer the right support for you.

Prop yourself up.

For pregnancy heartburn sufferers, changing your position so you're more upright may help reduce some of that awful reflux. "Putting the head of the bed on blocks, or using some pillows to prop you up can be helpful," says Dr. Minkin.

Try to eat foods that won't irritate you.

This is not to say that you always have to ignore those taco cravings, but with heartburn, some foods are just going to make it worse. Dr. van Dis recommends staying away from those heartburn trigger foods (like fatty, greasy, and spicy dishes) as much as possible — it'll help your stomach and sleep in the long run.

Be mindful of your eating and drinking habits.

The way you eat may have an effect on your ability to stay asleep. For your digestion, it's ideal to eat smaller meals throughout the day, and not too close to bedtime, says Dr. van Dis. (This can also help keep heartburn from acting up.) Limiting your coffee intake is a given, too, so you're not up for half the night. Also, you want to stay hydrated, especially throughout the day, but taper off your water intake in the evening so you don't need to make as many sleep-interrupting trips to the bathroom.

Make sure you're getting healthy (pregnancy-friendly) exercise.

Exercising regularly could help your body fight pregnancy insomnia. "It's helpful for reducing back pains, swelling, and bloating, easing constipation, and relieving some stress," according to Dr. van Dis. Prenatal yoga could be a great mind-body exercise for you, as could certain modifications to your regular gym routine and stretching gently before bed. Dr. Minkin also recommends swimming as another great form of low-impact exercise to tire you out in the evening.

Help your body wind down naturally.

Just as you would if you weren't pregnant, practice good sleep hygiene. That means minimizing blue light in the form of phone screens, TV screens, and laptop screens, at least an hour before you go to bed, Dr. van Dis advises. Try other mindfulness practices, like journaling or taking a warm bath, to help release anxiety and get you in the right mental space to fall right asleep.

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