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Pregnancy and Sleep

by Jane Wangersky | October 24th, 2012 | Pregnancy

Pregnant women often have trouble sleeping, especially after the first trimester. I know I got up at least once a night to go to the bathroom, and at least one time I got up to eat some ice cream because I had heartburn and we were out of Tums. (No, it wasn’t a craving.) According to the National Institute of Health, mental stress and the physical changes of pregnancy (heart and lungs working harder, pressure on the diaphragm) can also make it hard to relax at night.

The NIH’s Medline Plus also has some tips to get around this.

Like anyone who has trouble sleeping, you should, of course, watch your caffeine intake, stick to a regular schedule for getting up and going to bed, and avoid exercise just before bedtime.

To deal with pregnancy-specific sleep problems, Medline Plus recommends sleeping on your side with your legs bent. This eases the pressure on your heart. Many doctors say the left side is better, but of course you don’t have to spend all night on one side if it gets uncomfortable. Sleeping on your back is not recommended, and you won’t be able to sleep on your stomach anyway — but sleeping on your side will take some getting used to if you haven’t usually done it up to now.

Pillows can help, depending where you feel discomfort. One under your stomach can ease the strain. Some put a pillow between the knees or at the small of the back.

Unfortunately, unlike most people with sleep problems, you can’t just “take something” to help you fall asleep. Like any other meds, sleep aids are off limits in pregnancy unless your doctor approves. That includes herbal products — herbs can contain powerful chemicals. Even in aromatherapy, a small amount of the herb enters your body.

If you think your sleep problems are more mentally based — maybe you’re worried about motherhood, or the baby’s health and safety (or your own) — mention that to your doctor. There are non-medicinal ways to deal with it, beginning with learning all you can about your condition.

Finally, sleep disturbance is a mark of a pregnancy that’s “taking hold”, as my doctor once put it — so when you wake up yet again, remember it’s a sign of normality.

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