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Pregnancy Insomnia: What It Is and How to Beat It

When you're pregnant, you need extra rest. Unfortunately, getting a good night's sleep with a growing belly and hormonal changes can be hard.

Pregnant woman lying down in bed but unable to fall asleep.
Getty Images/becon

Insomnia during pregnancy happens to many people. According to the American Pregnancy Association, an estimated 78% of women experience insomnia during pregnancy. Hormone changes, babies kicking you in the bladder and heartburn are only a few factors that can keep you up at night while pregnant. 

Not getting enough sleep can impact both mother and child. Research suggests that lack of sleep is associated with longer labor and complications like preeclampsia. We pulled together a list of suggestions for beating sleep disturbances while pregnant. 

What causes pregnancy insomnia?

Trouble sleeping early in pregnancy is often attributed to hormonal shifts and nausea. Meanwhile, disturbances in the later terms of pregnancy are often due to discomfort and anxiety. Pregnancy insomnia can happen at any point during pregnancy; however, many women find that insomnia starts in the latter half of pregnancy -- when the baby belly makes it hard to get comfortable. But that's not the only reason sleep troubles can arise. 

Pregnancy insomnia causes include but are not limited to:

  • Progesterone and estrogen fluctuations  
  • Indigestion and heartburn
  • Back pain and discomfort
  • Frequent bathroom trips
  • Anxiety 
  • Vivid dreams

While you can't solve biological causes like a changing body or fluctuating hormones, you can ensure that your sleep hygiene isn't making matters worse. Think of sleep hygiene as all the habits and behaviors you take to sleep at night. It can be as simple as adjusting your thermostat or as involved as exercising. 

5 tips to beat pregnancy insomnia 

Make time for relaxing activities 

One of the most common reasons for sleeping troubles during pregnancy is discomfort. That's why it's important to integrate relaxation into your nightly routine. It can be whatever you find relaxing -- reading a book or journaling your thoughts. You may try breathing exercises or relaxation techniques you learned in childbirth classes. 

Epsom salt baths can help soothe sore muscles and achy backs and make it easier to fall asleep. Your brain relies on your body temperature to indicate when it's time to sleep. A degree or two may not seem like a big deal, but for our circadian rhythm, it's a crucial step for sleeping. 

There are two parts to making your nightly wash work for you -- temperature and timing. Warm baths or showers about an hour before bed will start your body's natural thermoregulation process and help you fall asleep quicker. 

Pregnant woman sitting on the edge of the tub and testing the temperature of the water with her hand
Getty Images/Andersen Ross Photography Inc

Try a dietary supplement for sleep

Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that helps maintain our circadian rhythm or sleep-wake cycle. Our melatonin production is reduced when we're exposed to light during the day. Then, as the sun sets and we're getting ready for bed, melatonin production kicks into high gear and we get sleepy.

Melatonin is one of the most popular over-the-counter supplements you can get. Regular melatonin use has risen from 0.4% of adults in 2000 to 2.1% in 2018. Research shows that melatonin supplements can promote sleep during pregnancy. Remember, you should always talk to your doctor before trying any supplements to help you sleep.  

Nap strategically

Pregnancy requires a huge amount of energy and nutrients that can leave you feeling fatigued. Though the typical advice for insomnia is to stay awake during the day as naps may worsen symptoms, that doesn't apply to pregnancy. Pregnant women need to nap, especially at the beginning of the pregnancy as the placenta grows.

You should strategically plan your naps to ensure they will not impact your sleep at night. A good rule of thumb is to keep it short and early in the day. If you nap too long or too late in the day, it can make it harder to fall asleep later. 

Try cognitive behavioral therapy 

Cognitive behavioral therapy can help if you're experiencing ongoing insomnia with no relief. Research suggests that cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia can improve sleep quality during pregnancy.  

CBT-I sessions will help redirect negative thoughts and behaviors that may exacerbate insomnia into positive ones. Instead of taking a sleeping aid to alleviate symptoms, CBT-I helps you identify and replace thinking and behaviors that impact your ability to sleep at night. CBT-I will be particularly helpful if the underlying causes of the sleep troubles are anxiety or stress. Most people see results fairly quickly -- typically between four and six sessions.

Pregnant woman sitting on a couch talking to a therapist
Getty Images/NoSystem images

Sleep on your left side

Getting comfortable in bed can seem impossible when you're sporting a huge baby bump. Not only is sleeping on your side the most comfortable pregnancy position but side sleeping is associated with alleviating insomnia. More specifically, sleeping on your left side can help ease gastrointestinal troubles like indigestion. That's because our stomachs are naturally left-side oriented in our bodies, which makes digestion the most effective if you sleep on your left side. Nighttime heartburn is common during pregnancy; sleeping on your left side can help ease symptoms. 

Adapting to a new sleeping position can be difficult, especially if it's not your typical position. Try using a maternity pillow to support your back and knees to keep you from turning onto your back. 

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.