Sleeping for Two: How Pregnancy Affects Sleep and What to Do About It in
Understanding the changes that occur during pregnancy and taking steps to improve sleep hygiene and create a comfortable sleep environment can help alleviate sleep disturbances and promote better sleep quality
During pregnancy, women may encounter a range of sleep difficulties, including trouble falling and staying asleep, vivid dreams, and restless leg syndrome
Pregnancy is a transformative time for women, with many changes happening in their bodies, including changes in their sleep patterns. For many pregnant women, sleep can become difficult to achieve or maintain, making the experience of pregnancy all the more challenging.
During pregnancy, women may encounter a range of sleep difficulties, including trouble falling and staying asleep, vivid dreams, and restless leg syndrome. “The growing belly is a common culprit of sleep disturbances as the expanding uterus can apply pressure on the diaphragm, hindering comfortable breathing while lying down. Additionally, the hormonal changes during pregnancy can lead to nasal congestion and further breathing difficulties,” says Dr Gayathri D Kamath, Senior Consultant, Obstetrics & Gynecology, Fortis Hospitals, Bannerghatta Road, Bangalore.
One of the most significant changes during pregnancy is the increase in the hormone progesterone. “Progesterone is responsible for maintaining the pregnancy and preparing the body for breastfeeding. However, it can also cause sleep disturbances, such as excessive daytime sleepiness and difficulty falling asleep at night. Additionally, pregnancy can cause physical discomfort, such as back pain, heartburn, and frequent urination, which can disrupt sleep. As pregnancy progresses, women may also experience restless leg syndrome, a condition characterized by an uncontrollable urge to move the legs, particularly at night,” says Dr. Smita Satpathy, Senior Consultant – Obstetrics & Gynaecology, CARE Hospitals, Bhubaneswar.
Restless leg syndrome can lead to difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. Another common sleep issue for pregnant women is sleep apnea. “Sleep apnea is a condition in which a person’s breathing stops and starts during sleep, causing disruptions in their sleep. Pregnant women are at a higher risk of developing sleep apnea due to the weight gain and hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy. Also, sometimes pregnant women may experience sleepless nights due to alteration in Melatonin levels which is responsible for our sleep cycle rhythm,” adds Dr Satpathy.
Frequent urination is another factor that can disrupt sleep in pregnant women. “As the uterus grows, it can press against the bladder, resulting in more trips to the bathroom throughout the night. This can be especially aggravating for women who are already struggling to get enough rest,” adds Dr Kamath.
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Despite the challenges of pregnancy-related sleep issues, there are several things that pregnant women can do to improve their sleep. These include:
- Establishing a consistent bedtime routine: Establishing a bedtime routine can help signal to the body that it is time to sleep. A relaxing routine that includes activities such as taking a warm bath, reading a book, or practicing relaxation techniques can be helpful.
- Maintaining a comfortable sleep environment: “Creating a comfortable sleep environment is essential for getting a good night’s sleep. This includes ensuring the bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet,” feels Dr Satpathy.
- Practicing good sleep hygiene: Good sleep hygiene involves behaviours that promote healthy sleep. This includes avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine, especially close to bedtime.
- Using pregnancy pillows: Dr Satpathy believes pregnancy pillows can help pregnant women find a comfortable sleeping position that reduces discomfort and improves sleep quality.
- Avoid drinking excessive amounts of water after evening hours to prevent nocturnal frequency of urination.
- Avoid using electronic gadgets in the hours leading up to bedtime.
- “It is beneficial to have an early dinner, preferably before 8 pm, as it allows for sufficient time for digestion before bedtime. Additionally, avoiding a heavy three-course meal can promote earlier gastric emptying, preventing discomfort and aiding in a restful night’s sleep. To reduce the frequency of visits to the restroom during the night, it is recommended to restrict fluid intake after the late evening, typically after 9 pm. This can help reduce disruptions to sleep, leading to a more restorative and rejuvenating night’s rest,” opines Dr Kamath. Despite the difficulties, it’s essential for pregnant women to prioritize their sleep as it can benefit both the mother and baby’s health.
Pregnancy can significantly affect sleep patterns for many women. Understanding the changes that occur during pregnancy and taking steps to improve sleep hygiene and create a comfortable sleep environment can help alleviate sleep disturbances and promote better sleep quality.
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