Pregnancy brings many changes to a woman’s body. The physical changes are apparent but they only reflect the underlying physiological and hormonal changes that accompany a pregnancy. To top them all are the psychological changes and anxieties that every expectant mother goes through. Given all these shifts, it is not surprising that more than half of all pregnant women have sleep problems during some part of their pregnancy.
Each trimester brings in different challenges that affect sleep. In the first trimester, there is a frequent need to visit the bathroom and also excessive daytime drowsiness that makes it difficult to sleep for long periods. Progesterone, a hormone whose level rises during the early months of pregnancy, also triggers or worsens sleep apnoea and snoring by relaxing the throat muscles. There is some improvement when it comes to getting sleep during the second trimester as the growing baby moves up from the pelvis to the abdomen. In the third trimester though, the growing belly can significantly affect the sleep position. As the baby grows larger, there can also be heartburn, which further disturbs sleep.
Getting good sleep is essential during pregnancy. Poor sleep has been linked to prolonged labour and higher rates of Caesarean deliveries. Once the baby is born, disturbed sleep is inevitable, so there is all the more reason to try and get some good sleep during your pregnancy.
Here are some tips that will help you sleep better:
Take daytime naps
Expectant mothers naturally feel drowsy during the day. In these situations, it is best to give in, take a nap to keep yourself rested. These naps work best when taken around midday. Avoid napping close to your bedtime as it will interfere with your sleep at night. Short 30-minute naps are better than long daytime naps. However, don’t drift into deep sleep because after waking up you will feel dazed and lazy.
Sleeping tips for new mothers
- Nap with your baby: A new baby means sleep deprivation for at least a whole year to come. So figure out which is the longest duration of the day when your baby sleeps and use this time to catch some sleep for yourself.
- Take turns with your hubby: Before sleeping at night, you can pump out the milk from your breasts and store it in the feeding bottle. When the baby wakes up crying at night, your husband can then feed her/him while you catch some restful sleep.
- Go to bed early: Nights with a new baby can be harassing when it comes to sleep. So, as you are anyway sleep-deprived, why not make more time for it with an earlier bedtime?
- Eliminate the distractions: With very little time left for sleep, stay away from distractions like your phone, TV, and computer before going to bed.
Mind your diet
If you are prone to heartburn, avoid eating spicy, oily and acidic food. Take small meals more frequently and avoid tea and coffee after 3 pm, especially if you have trouble falling asleep at night. Drink lots of fluids during the day but as you approach bedtime, drink less to avoid waking up to relieve yourself in the middle of the night. Sleeping with your head elevated on pillows will also help if you have heartburn.
A light workout can help you get a good sleep as it reduces sleep latency and insomnia. Exercises also help build a healthy body and mind. But avoid vigorous exercises and discuss with your doctor what types of exercises you are allowed. Certain pregnancy conditions, for example, require you to rest and avoid exercises completely. You can also join yoga classes for the pregnancy stage, where you can learn asanas that not only help you de-stress, but also ease you through your pregnancy and facilitate your delivery.
Get into a routine
Our bodies and biological clock adjust to our daily activities. So, if you are having trouble sleeping, try to establish a routine. Stick to fixed times for going to bed and waking up. Set aside 30 minutes before bedtime to help you relax and unwind from your busy day—read a book or listen to soft music. Don’t force yourself to sleep.
Use more pillows
Don’t worry about using more pillows when you sleep. Placing an extra pillow under your head will help if you snore. Also use extra pillows to stabilise your body. Tuck them under your knees, abdomen, and between your legs to make yourself as comfortable as you want to ensure good sleep. You can look for special pillows that are designed for use during pregnancy. You can choose from body pillows or the C- or U-shaped ones.
If you sleep on your back or stomach, then pregnancy means having to change your sleep posture. The growing belly makes it impossible to sleep on your stomach. And as the baby grows inside the uterus, it can compress the large blood vessels if you sleep on your back. The best position is side–sleeping, facing to your left.
Avoid taking any sleeping pills during pregnancy unless it is prescribed by your doctor. And if they are being prescribed, find out from your doctor which medications could make you drowsy and so be avoided.
If you wake up because of cramps in your leg, press your leg against the wall or stand for some time to get your circulation going. Check your diet for calcium intake to make sure that it is optimum as that will prevent the re-occurrence of cramps.
This was first published in the January 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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