Expecting mothers seem to be among some of the most afflicted when it comes to sleep loss. In fact, according to a poll by the National Sleep Foundation, 78% of women reported more disturbed sleep while pregnant than at any other time.
Pregnancy and Sleep Disorders
Insomnia is one of the most common sleep disorders. Insomnia's primary symptoms include difficulty going to sleep, difficulty maintaining sleep, and waking up too early without being able to go back to sleep.
Pregnant women often report symptoms of insomnia due to stress and anxiety about labor, delivery, motherhood, and balancing parenting with work or school. Other pregnancy related problems such as discomfort, back pain, and fetal movements also contribute to sleep loss.
Restless Leg Syndrome
Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a condition characterized by sensations in the legs such as cramping, itching, aching, burning, creeping, or pulling that occur when the legs are at rest, most notably while in bed.
The symptoms are relieved only by moving the legs temporarily. Shortly after movement, the legs begin to develop the sensations again. These uncomfortable feelings can make sleep difficult, as the need to constantly be moving the legs to reduce symptoms keeps sufferers awake.
Nearly 26% of women report symptoms or RLS during pregnancy, with symptoms at peak during the 7th and 8th month of pregnancy. Most RLS symptoms disappear within one month of delivery.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a sleep disorder characterized by interrupted breathing during sleep as a result of an obstruction of the upper airways. Fatty tissues of the throat relax and collapse back into the airways during sleep. The results are loud snoring followed by pauses ain breathing, and then gasping or choking sounds as the brain partially wakes from sleep to force the body to increase breathing effort. These partial awakenings from sleep reduce the overall quality of sleep making suffers experience excessive daytime sleepiness during the daytime. Morning headaches are also associated with lower oxygen levels in the blood.
Women who are already overweight are more likely to develop sleep apnea as a result of an excess build up of fatty tissues in the throat due to the added weight gain experienced during pregnancy.
Nocturnal gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
GERD, or heartburn, is a frequent complaint among pregnant women. Heartburn in pregnant women can be attributed to a few occurrences during pregnancy most notably are hormonal changes that cause the digestive system to slow down including muscles in the esophagus that push food down. Another contributing factor to GERD is the growing uterus putting pressure on the stomach and sometimes pushing stomach acids up into the esophagus.
Symptoms of GERD can worsen during sleep as the sufferer lays down, allowing the acids to move up into the esophagus more easily.
The need to use the bathroom frequently at night can disrupt sleep as expecting mothers often wake multiple times in the night for bathroom breaks. These frequent trips disrupt sleep patterns and can cause symptoms of daytime fatigue.
Pregnancy Sleep Tips
If you're an expectant mother you shouldn't let the potential for developing a sleep disorder scare you too much. For many pregnant women, sleep troubles can be fixed by following a few simple sleep hygiene practices to minimize the risk of sleep disorders and maximize the amount of nightly sleep. Furthermore, many of the tips for sleeping while pregnant are also very useful sleep tips for just about anybody suffering from sleep loss.
Maintain a regular sleep/wake cycle. Prioritizing sleep is key in getting sleep. Making sure that you're going to bed and waking up at the same time every day (including weekends) goes a long way in feeling more awake and alert during the day.
Exercise regularly. Unless your doctor advises against it, regular exercise should be done at least 30 minutes a day. Getting out any pent up energy through exercise will increase circulation, improve mood, and help you fall asleep easier at night. However, no vigorous exercise should be done too close to bedtime. If you prefer to workout later in the day, some light exercises such as yoga are recommended.
Cutback on fluids at night. It's very important to stay hydrated during pregnancy, but to help reduce late night trips to the bathroom avoid drinking large amounts in the hours leading up to bedtime.
Avoid Spicy Foods and heavy meals before bedtime. Eating spicy foods before bedtime can increase the chances and severity of heartburn at night. Eating heavy meals before bedtime makes the body work harder during sleep to digest your food, distracting it from working on the repairs your body needs for the next day's activities. If you're feeling hungry close to bedtime, try eating a light snack such as a banana, crackers and cheese, or a small bowl of cereal. For more information on foods and sleep click here.
Sleep on your left side. During the third trimester of sleep it is recommended that expecting mothers sleep on their left side. This increases the flow of blood and nutrients to the fetus, uterus, and kidneys. Also, try to avoid sleeping on your back for extended periods of time.
Use pillows. Special pregnancy pillows can go a long way towards nighttime comfort. Another pillow tip to reduce back pain is to lay on your left side with hips and knees bent and place pillows between your knees, under your abdomen, and behind your back.
When having trouble sleeping get out of bed. If sleep is alluding you, don't lie in bed willing it to come. Get out of bed and do another relaxing activity such as reading, writing, take a warm bath, or any other relaxing activity before returning to bed.
Take short naps during the day. For the most part, naps are usually advised against as they tend to disrupt regular sleep cycles making going to sleep at night more difficult. However, studies have shown that napping while pregnant can prove beneficial. A poll by the National Sleep Foundation found that 51% of women reported at least one midweek nap and 60% reported napping on the weekends. However, if you choose to nap make sure they're no more than 20-30 minutes long, and don't nap too close to bedtime.
At the Alaska Sleep Clinic we help diagnose and treat a variety of sleep disorders in all people. If you live in Alaska and believe you may be suffering from a sleep disorder give the trusted sleep experts of the state a call for a free 10-minute phone consultation. Don't let your sleep troubles get in the way of the joys of pregnancy, contact us today.