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5 Things Experts Want You to Know About Pregnancy and Sleep

Getting a good night's rest while pregnant can be tough. Here's what health experts want you to keep in mind.

Kim Wong-Shing Former Senior Associate Editor / Wellness
During her time at CNET, Kim Wong-Shing loved demystifying the world of wellness to make it accessible to any reader. She was also passionate about exploring the intersections of health, history and culture. Prior to joining CNET, she contributed stories to Glamour, MindBodyGreen, Greatist and other publications.
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  • Reads health studies in her sleep.
Kim Wong-Shing
4 min read
Pregnant person lying on a sofa.
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Pregnancy and misinformation seem to go hand in hand at times. The internet is full of myths, rumors and old wives' tales about pregnancy, and it can be hard to determine what's true and what's not, especially if you're pregnant for the first time. 

One aspect of pregnancy that can be challenging is sleep. Many factors can make it harder to get a good night of sleep as your pregnancy progresses, yet it's crucial for your and your baby's health to get the rest you need. We spoke to experts to see which facts about pregnancy and sleep are most important for you to know.

Sleep is harder, for good reason

Not every pregnant individual will struggle with sleep, but it's very common. "I don't think there's any sugarcoating it that sleep is going to be an ongoing and evolving issue throughout pregnancy," said Dr. Chester Wu, a psychiatrist and sleep medicine specialist. "The majority of women can expect subjectively poorer quality sleep and increased awakenings at night."

Aside from the obvious growing baby bump, other things can make it more difficult to get good sleep while pregnant: frequent bathroom trips, heartburn, aches, pains, anxiety, vivid dreams and more. Your baby is also more active at nighttime, making it hard to relax. Certain sleep disorders, like sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome, are also more common during pregnancy (more on that later). The first and third trimesters of pregnancy are often where you'll experience the most disruptions, per Johns Hopkins Medicine.

As many as 80% of women deal with insomnia during pregnancy, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Person's hands hold their pregnant belly.
FG Trade/Getty Images

It's important for your health -- and your baby's

"The first thing about sleeping when pregnant is that you'll need more of it, a suggested seven to nine hours of sleep consistently," Dr. Michael Green, OB-GYN and cofounder of Winona, said. But, he added, "'Sleeping for two' is more about getting good sleep regularly, not sleeping twice as much." 

It's worth taking extra precautions to help you get enough rest. "Sufficient sleep can boost your energy levels, mood, concentration, memory, and immune system function," said Dr. Nisarg Patel, OB-GYN at ClinicSpots

Not only is sleep vital for your own mental and physical health, but it also affects your pregnancy and baby. Per Johns Hopkins Medicine, research has found that women who didn't get enough sleep during pregnancy had higher risks of developing gestational diabetes or high blood pressure, as well as other complications like longer labors and C-sections.

The truth about side sleeping

One common misconception is that you cannot sleep on your back or stomach at all while you're pregnant. "Sleeping on side," or SOS, is what doctors often recommend. More specifically, sleeping on the left side: This avoids putting pressure on the vein that circulates blood back to the lower abdomen from your heart. 

However, that's not a concern until your third trimester. Until then, it's fine to sleep on your back or stomach. "While sleeping on the left side improves blood flow and nutrient supply to the fetus due to positioning, it is most certainly not the only safe position and it is perfectly safe to sleep in other positions that are comfortable," Lauren Thayer, a registered nurse at Health Canal, said.

As you approach the 28-week mark, compressing on that vein could become a concern -- but you'd feel it if it happened. Your body will naturally gravitate to the proper position for the comfort and circulation you need. 

Person sleeping on side, holding pregnant belly.
Kathrin Ziegler/Getty Images

Sleep disorders to watch out for

Some sleep disorders are more common due to hormonal changes, weight gain, stress and the many other changes your body goes through while pregnant,. Two of the most prevalent sleep disorders to keep an eye out for are:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea: As many as 26% of pregnant women in one study had obstructive sleep apnea by the third trimester. This condition can cause snoring, waking up during the night and sleepiness during the day. 
  • Restless leg syndrome: Restless leg syndrome is another common cause of sleep issues while pregnant, with rates as high as 34%. It causes an uncontrollable urge to move your legs while resting.

If you experience symptoms of either of these conditions, talk to your doctor to discuss treatment options. 

Pregnancy-safe sleeping aids

When it comes to getting better sleep, most of the same advice applies to pregnant people as to non-pregnant people: limit screen time before bed, keep a consistent schedule, avoid caffeine or spicy foods in the evening and so on. But there are also specific products to help you during pregnancy, such as pregnancy pillows

If you're considering using a supplement to help you fall asleep, make sure to look for pregnancy-safe products. Be sure to speak with your doctor before taking any supplements, especially during pregnancy.

"If melatonin works for you that is really a blessing, as it is not habit forming and can be used nightly," said Dr. Greg Marchand, OB-GYN and owner of the Marchand Institute, who recommends 10mg of melatonin nightly to his patients. You might also try eating tart cherries, which are naturally high in melatonin.

According to Dr. Marchand, Benadryl is also pregnancy-safe, but it's not ideal for long-term use. "It can be habit forming and after you use it for a few nights many of my patients report that they cannot fall asleep without it," he says. Benadryl can also make your baby sleepy and lead to a decrease in movement, causing an unnecessary trip to the hospital. 

As always, it's best to talk to your doctor for more specific and personal advice. Your doctor can help you get the best (and safest) sleep possible until your baby is born. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.