Quality sleep is essential, yet close to impossible during pregnancy: a paradox. According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 1998 Women and Sleep poll, 78% of women report more disturbed sleep during pregnancy than at other times in their lives. This is an affect of both physical (increase in hormones, nausea, heartburn, nocturia, and back pain) and emotional (anxiety about labour, baby’s health, and shifting relationship with your partner) demands of pregnancy.
Even so, studies have shown that chronic disrupted sleep should never be accepted as “normal” because poor sleep hygiene is associated with preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, low birth weights, longer labours and unplanned cesarean deliveries. If you’re suffering from insomnia or any other sleep disorders, it’s important for you to prioritize sleep and find effective strategies for managing as early as possible in the pregnancy. Here are some ways to kick insomnia during pregnancy (and after!).
Have A Consistent Bed and Wake Time Routine
A bedtime routine is not just for children. Find a time that you can start to shut your brain off to the rest of the world and go inward. When it starts to get dark, melotonin (a natural hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycles) is released into the blood. Usually, this begins around 9 pm. This is the perfect time to find a calming activity to kick off your routine. Hot/cold shower, brushing your teeth, hair, give yourself a foot massage, teas (make sure that they are pregnancy safe) can be a good way to signal to the brain that it’s time to relax and that sleep is on its way. In the same vain, planning to wake up at the same time every day can serve as a hard reset of your biological rhythms.
Avoid Screens At Least 30 Minutes Before Bed
This is probably the most difficult, but most important step in good sleep hygiene. Especially for parents with older children, late at night may seem like a convenient time to get social or that last bit of work done. However, the screen affects your sleep in more ways than you realize. The blue light emitted by screens on cell phones, computers, tablets, and televisions restrain the production of melatonin making it harder to fall and stay asleep. Do yourself a service and shut everything off at least 30-minutes prior to sleeping. Even better: Make your bedroom a technology-free zone—keep your electronics outside the room (that includes a TV!).
Take Naps No Later Than 3 PM
Power naps aren’t for everyone. For instance, for some, sleeping in the middle of the day may bring on sleep inertia (that groggy, disoriented feeling after you wake up) or create or worsen existing sleep problems. In an article by Ebert et al, the authors report that frequent daytime naps, regardless of duration, did not significantly impact nighttime sleep quality or quantity, but might actually compensate for poor nighttime sleep. If you find that you have to doze off midday, make sure that it’s no later than 3 pm and in a quiet, dark place with comfortable temperature and few distractions.
Find a Prenatal Yoga Class
Insomnia and other sleep disruptions during pregnancy are usually due to the taxing physical and mental strains of this life stage, and giving yourself 20 minutes of calm and stretching will allow you to go inward and lead to a better night’s sleep. Whether online or in-person, prenatal yoga can help relieve aches and pains, reduce tension and swelling, and generally give you peace of mind, keeping you in the present when it comes to bedtime.
In most cases of discomfort, diet plays a huge role and should be the first go-to when changing habits; the same goes for better sleep quality. Eating and drinking for better sleep mean more than just avoiding caffeine and acidic foods. Foods that are high in lean protein, such as cottage cheese, may increase serotonin levels – low levels of this brain chemical can contribute to insomnia. There are melatonin-rich foods that can help to bring on sleepiness before bed. A handful of nuts (specifically almonds and walnuts) and fruits such as tart cherry juice and whole tart cherries, bananas, pineapple, and oranges are a great source. If you have insomnia, try eating two kiwis and avoid complex carbs (white bread, refined pasta, and sugary, baked goods) which may reduce serotonin levels, before bed.
Good quality sleep has been directly linked to positive birth outcomes and postpartum maternal mental health. Even though the studies so far haven’t shown an increased risk from the use of sleep medications, there are natural changes that can be made to your routine, habits and diet before going directly to the pharmacy for sleep disturbances in pregnancy.
Bradshaw, Dorothy, Infant and Child Sleep Consultant at The 41st Wink Infant and Child Sleep
Ebert RM, Wood A, Okun ML. Minimal effect of daytime napping behavior on nocturnal sleep in pregnant women. J Clin Sleep Med. 2015;11:635–43.: Online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4442224/