Sleep deprived? Insomnia in pregnancy, why it happens and how to sleep better

After 5 pregnancies I can tell you that sleep deprivation is the worst form of torture.

I have tried absolutely everything to try and get a better night’s sleep. The first trimester tiredness takes over and in the third trimester the baby bump means that you just cannot get comfy.

So here is my ultimate guide to getting a good night’s sleep in pregnancy. I hope these tips will help you get the best sleep that is possible while you are pregnant.

Related: Top 12 things you need in the third trimester.
Related: How much weight gain is normal in pregnancy

I’m so tired in pregnancy, Is this normal?

Every woman will face some sleep troubles during pregnancy and it is perfectly normal.

The first trimester is when the pregnancy hormone progesterone will make you both fatigued and also cause sleep issues.

The hormone is also known to be responsible for the frequent toilet trips you are making at night.

In the second trimester, things may get slightly better and you have a short respite from not being able to sleep. However, for some women there is no respite.

Morning sickness, or all day and all-night sickness in my case, heartburn, restless leg syndrome (RLS), frequent night toilet visits continue.

In the third trimester, your growing bump means that getting comfortable can be the biggest reason for your sleepless nights. That coupled with SPD, Sciatica, Restless Leg syndrome, aches, pains and general tiredness.

But all is not lost, the tips and tricks to help you sleep in pregnancy below are what I have used with varying amounts of success.

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Try to sleep on your side.

There are recommendations that sleeping on your back in the third trimester can increase the risk of stillbirth.

Sleeping on your back can put pressure on the blood vessels that supply the uterus depriving the baby of vital oxygen.

It is therefore a good idea to try and sleep on your side when you are pregnant.

I love to sleep on my stomach and back when I’m not pregnant but both of these positions are out of the question when I’m expecting.

So, I start practicing early. I lay on my side putting pillows behind my back and in between my legs to stop me rolling onto my back in the night.

Related: Top 12 Things you need in the first trimester

If you can’t sleep do some chores

Tossing and turning in bed doesn’t help anyone and it just causes you to become more anxious and stressed. Getting out of bed and walking around the house can help you reset.

I always have chores that need doing especially my absolute worst chore which is folding laundry and as a family of 7 there was plenty of it to do.

This has to be the worlds most boring and tedious job, within 30-45 mins of this I was seriously ready for bed.  

Find something you really dislike doing or a job that has been waiting a while for you to sort, like that junk drawer that everyone has in the kitchen and trust me you will be asleep in no time at all.

Related: 18 of the Best Online Childbirth Classes Compared

Lavender

In the second and third trimesters some essential oils are safe to use including my most loved Lavender. Lavender is known for its many benefits including soothing, calming and anti-anxiety properties.

You can diffuse lavender in the diffuser or put a few drops diluted in a carrier oil on your temples or on your wrists, I find this too strong so I stick to diffusing a few drops in a large amount of water at night

Some moms like putting a few drops on their pillow but for me this is too overpowering.

I find lavender to be calming only when it is subtle and for this reason, I put a dry lavender in an organza bag under my pillow which has a beautiful and light fragrance.

Pillows, Pillows and even more Pillows

I really don’t know how any pregnant woman manages to get through a whole pregnancy without a full body pregnancy pillow.

There are so many different types available on the market but this one is my absolute favorite.

It does the job of 5 different pillows in one and in my honest opinion is that it’s worth every cent. I also have a small wedge that I use when I’m downstairs laying on the couch.

if you don’t have this pillow you can place a few pillows behind your back to stop you rolling onto your back while you are sleeping.

Place two pillows between your legs and one under your tummy, this is the pillow combo that I used to get comfy before I found my absolute favorite pillow.

After having 5 children and been through a fair few sleepless nights this is the first thing I recommend when I find out someone is pregnant!

I can guarantee you that this pillow will help you sleep better (minus the loo visits).

Congestion

This is far more common then you would believe.

Pregnancy rhinitis is known as congestion. It is caused by the increase of blood circulation in your body leading to the small vessels in your nose to swell causing congestion.

For some moms this is one of the first signs of pregnancy and only lasts a few weeks, but for some like me it can go on well into the third trimester.

During the day I feel as though it is easier to cope with, but at night it can really cause me to wake.

I tried lots of sprays from my doctor but the only thing that worked was using a diffuser at night. You can also try a saline spray which can give you some relief.

The humid air will help soothe your itchy irritated nose and clear your head. I use a few drops of lavender oil in mine to aid sleep and help relax me at night.

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    Wind down ritual or routine.

    The National Sleep Foundation recommends setting up a bedtime routine or sleep promoting activities.

    This could include brushing your teeth, doing your nightly skincare routine, getting into your PJ’s and reading a book.

    Most of us tend to have this kind of routine with the children where they have a bath, brush their teeth and then have a bedtime story.

    The routine sends a message to the brain that it is in fact time to sleep so why not give it a try and see if it helps.

    Reduce caffeine

    I’m a coffee addict and it is coffee alone that gets me through the day, so when I’m pregnant I find it extremely difficult to cut the caffeine.  

    I do this by having my normal cup of coffee in the morning and then switching to decaf for the rest of the day.

    For those of you who are also coffee addicts, you will know that the decaf just doesn’t quite hit the spot so I keep my normal coffee as part of my breakfast.

    If you like me struggle with sleep then I would recommend that you cut the caffeine from 1pm. This includes caffeinated drinks like cola.

    I have recently discovered herbal teas which are a nice addition if you are in the habit of drinking a hot beverage in the late afternoon or evening but be mindful that some herbal teas also contain natural caffeine.

    Reduce water intake before bed

    If you can try to limit your liquid intake before bed, this will help you reduce visits to the bathroom as often in the night.

    The baby will be pressing on your bladder all the time towards the end of your pregnancy causing you to go to the toilet all the time.

    Cutting out that late night glass of milk could help you not go so often.

    The warm milk was counterproductive in my case as I was drinking it to help me sleep but it was causing me to wake at least 4 times in the night to go to the toilet.

    Stay as active as possible during the day

    This is so difficult when you have had a rough night, but even a short walk will help you stay active and the fresh air will really help.

    Exercise can boost your energy levels and help you sleep better at night. If you are suffering with back pain then light exercise can help. A short walk, swimming or yoga are excellent forms of exercise just let the instructor know you are pregnant.

    However, try not to exercise in the late afternoon as this can funnily enough negatively impact your natural sleep cycle leaving you wide awake in the middle of the night.

    Reduce daytime naps

    So, you can’t sleep at night and decide that you need a daytime nap, but then you can’t sleep at night because you had a nap! It’s a catch 22.

    A power nap is a great way of boosting your energy levels when you have struggled at night but you must reduce the amount of time you are sleeping.

    Falling into a deep sleep at 2 pm will really affect your night sleep and I don’t know about you but it’s much harder to get through the night on no sleep then it is the day.

    I used to set my alarm and nap for no longer than half an hour, I know you are thinking what is half an hour going to achieve but trust me a short catnap worked wonders in helping me sleep better at night.

    Take a Bath

    I found a bath before bed really helped me to relax and take the weight off my big tummy. I suffered with lots of aches and pains; my pelvis was inflamed with SPD and I suffered from Sciatica so laying in the warm water really helped reduce the pain. When I added the Epsom salts and a drop of lavender this further helped relax me. Unfortunately, the water only helped for a few hours but that was long enough for me to get comfortable in bed.

    Remember that the water should be warm and not hot.

    Try reading a book

    Sleep experts recommending avoiding bright lights before bed and that means phones, tablets or any screens. Ditch them and try to read before bed. I know its hard not to check your phone before bed but give it a try and see if it makes a difference.

    I used this time to read light hearted and funny books or magazines rather than anything stressful like ‘the horrors of birth’.

    Reading is also an excellent part of your bedtime routine; The National Sleep Foundation recommends setting up a sleep routine and a pre-bedtime reading habit is a good way of reminding your brain its time for bed.

    The body needs to wind down before you can get to sleep so some experts recommend doing a calming activity one hour before sleeping like reading just stay clear of anything that may cause stress or anxiety as vivid dreams are also a side effect of pregnancy.

    Cut out midnight snacks

    Ok so maybe not midnight but try to limit eating a few hours before you sleep. Indigestion can seriously keep you up all night. Acid Reflux and heartburn really are not pleasant they can be painful and really cause sleep disturbances.

    If you do suffer from heartburn and indigestion then Tums are your best friend and if you want a natural option, I found 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar in a large glass of vinegar was instant relief after a heavy Chinese takeaway.

    Once you get the heartburn and indigestion under control you will find it really helps you get a better night’s rest.

    Try laying on your left side as this will help stop the acid from your stomach come up to your throat.

    Glider or rocker with foot rest

    I was lucky enough to have a glider before my baby was born as I used it with previous pregnancies.

    The Glider is the best thing to sleep on when you are suffering from pregnancy-related insomnia or if you suffer from severe morning or all-day sickness in my case.

    I could recline it enough to get comfortable and the footstool meant that I could rock my whole body to sleep.

    Sometimes I had to get away from my husbands snoring and this was an excellent alternative to my bed as the other option was the couch.

    When I spoke to my doctor about whether it was safe to sleep propped up while pregnant on my glider, he replied ‘its safe but may not be the most comfortable position’.

    He advised me to sleep on my side but on those nights that heartburn and indigestion were at its worst the chair really helped me.

    Related: Best Nursery Glider Recliner

    Vivid dreams and nightmares.

    Unfortunately, vivid dreams and nightmares are common in pregnancy, it has been said that they are caused by the subconscious anxiety that you are feeling about labor and delivery.

    If you are struggling with Pregnancy related nightmares then try to talk through your fears you may find that doing so helps.

    Some Moms find writing a journal and documenting their dreams helps them understand what might be going on, I was never this organised and I dealt with my anxiety by reading and arming myself with as much knowledge as possible.

    If you have had a bad dream then try not to lay there in the dark thinking about it, I would actually get up go for a little walk around the house and change my state before getting back into bed. By doing so, by the time I had got back into bed I would have forgotten what had troubled me to begin with.

    RELATED: OVERCOMING FEAR OF LABOR

    Set the scene

    Setting the scene of having a dark room with blackout blinds or thick curtains, no screens including televisions, dim lighting if you need to get up. I had this lamp which was invaluable and I used it while I was breastfeeding. You can also try wearing an eye mask or using earplugs which I couldn’t do due to the fact I had other kids that I had to listen out for.

    White noise can also help you fall asleep. I had this device which I have also used with the baby when I have gone on to sleep train him.

    Fan

    During pregnancy I am constantly hot, it is a known fact that pregnant women naturally have a few extra degrees on their normal body temperature and bedtime is no exception.

    I have a fan on my bedside table and have it on very lightly during the night. Keeping cool at night is very important to help me sleep.

    My husband is not quite so appreciative especially when it’s the middle of December and I have the Fan going!

    Magnesium oil

    In a study of 600 pregnant women 16% suffered from Restless Leg Syndrome or RLS.

    RLS makes you feel as though you have a pinching sensation in your calves, they feel cold and achy and I have suffered with this with 5 pregnancies.

    I was told that it could be caused by a lack of potassium so I started eating bananas before bed which didn’t help. I also tried wearing thick leg warmers but this wasn’t a great idea as I was already hot and sweaty. What did help was Magnesium spray

    Magnesium spray was the best relief from the uncomfortable feeling of having RLS. I used it before bedtime starting with a small amount diluted in coconut oil.

    I slowly decreased the amount of coconut oil until I could tolerate it neat. Some people find that the spray can sting and I was one of those people but diluting it really helps until your body can handle the oil.

    Sleeping bra

    A sleep bra is designed to alleviate any breast discomfort while you sleep. For most women the first trimester is usually when the discomfort starts so you may that a sleep bra helps.

     women with larger breasts tend to find they cannot sleep without support and having a really comfortable bra without underwire and soft cups will definitely help.

    Women who themselves have kids will sometimes make comments such as ‘you should sleep as much as you can before baby arrives’. I often wonder if these women actually remember what its like to try and get a decent night’s sleep when you are in the last trimester.

    I try and stay positive telling myself that it’s the baby’s way of preparing me for the sleepless nights that await me and I should be grateful for the few hours that I was getting.

    There are so many different ways to try and beat pregnancy insomnia, and I would try each one of these until you find what works for you. Please remember to consult your physician or doctor before trying anything new.

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