When I was pregnant everyone kept telling me, ‘get your sleep now!’ But in between heartburn and restless leg syndrome I was running on about three hours sleep a night for the majority of my pregnancy. While for now those days are behind me, I have a gaggle of girlfriends who are all experiencing pregnancy-related sleep problems. In honour of them, I’ve put together this list of common pregnancy sleep problems, along with expert tips on how to solve them.
Common pregnancy sleep problems #1: Sleep problem: Sore breasts
From the moment those two blue lines come into your life, your body is on a rollercoaster ride. One of the first things to change is your breasts, which may become sore and tender, thanks to steeply rising estrogen and HCG levels. Sleep becomes a problem for many women who previously slept on their fronts, but then find that it’s impossible to put any pressure on their breasts.
Sleep solution: According to Dr. Kellie Flood-Shaffer, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Texas Tech Health Sciences Center in the US, there are a few things you can do. “A hot shower just before bed can ease you into dreamland. If it’s difficult to sleep on your stomach and you can’t get comfortable on your back, reposition your pillows: sleeping on your side and using a body pillow might do the trick.”
Common pregnancy sleep problems #2: Sleep problem: A throbbing head
Blame your seesawing hormones, namely your progesterone levels, which are going through the roof in the first and second trimesters. It causes your blood vessels to dilate, which in turn results in headaches.
Sleep solution: Dr. Flood-Shaffer recommends applying a cool towel to your forehead. “This will help the blood vessels contract while relaxing muscles and relieving the headache. Also, rest when you can, if not at night, then by taking a nap during the day, as this will give your body much-needed rest from any fatigue-induced headaches.”
Common pregnancy sleep problems #3: Sleep problem: Toilet breaks
Once again, increased progesterone has a hand in this one, because it often results in you needing to go to the toilet during the night. Worse still, as your uterus grows, flattening your bladder, this becomes even more frequent.
Sleep solution: It’s very important to stay hydrated during pregnancy, but in order to reduce late-night trips to the bathroom, Barbara Dehn, author of Your Personal Guide to Pregnancy, recommends cutting down on fluids at least two hours before bedtime.
Common pregnancy sleep problems #4: Sleep problem: Restless leg syndrome (RLS)
This was probably the most frustrating aspect of my pregnancy, as I was kept awake many a night with itching, aching and cramping. But what causes it RLS? “We suspect that RLS during pregnancy is related to anemia, and it’s debated by many whether this is because of an iron deficiency or a folate deficiency,” says Dr. Grace Pien, sleep expert at the University of Pennsylvania Health System Division of Sleep Medicine.
Sleep solution: Dr. Pien recommends boosting your iron and folate intake, but only after seeking advice from your doctor. “You can also apply a heating pad for 15-20 minutes to help ease the compulsion to move your legs,” she says.
Common pregnancy sleep problems #5: Sleep problem: Heartburn
I had the worst heartburn during my pregnancy. It was like gargling on a battery acid milkshake. Every night. For nine months. Nice. If you’re suffering with it too, you can thank pregnancy hormones, which relax the muscle that normally keeps stomach acid where it belongs. While you can experience heartburn at any time of day, it’s usually worse when you’re lying down.
Sleep solution: These heartburn-busters can help, as well as some over-the-counter medicines such as Gaviscon, if your doctor gives you the go-ahead.