Calling all pregnant women! You might have realized by now that your body is producing a miracle-a-minute.  The extraordinary way that your system has naturally turned into a baby-nurturing-wonderland is incredible. Blows your mind, doesn’t it!? Your baby is getting the goods and this is always a reassuring thing.  However, sometimes the flaw in the system is when YOU need to rest.

What good, comes from sleeplessness? Especially when your waking hours will find you requiring extra energy to cart that added weight around?  The answer is… there isn’t any.  We’ve just got to get you sleeping!

So here are a bunch of the most common sleep thieves and how to guard yourself against them.

SLEEP PROBLEM #1: What the heck - what’s with all this pee?

Because of the increase in blood supply when you’re pregnant, a lot of extra fluid makes its way through your kidneys and lands in your bladder, hence the pee.

Simply by lying down, fluids retained during the day are now most easily transported by your blood to your bladder, the result? even more pee. And unfortunately, ladies, with the added weight of that little miracle you hold within you, pressing on your vitals, the pee-ing during the wee-hours (excuse the pun), is inevitable.

What can you do?

Avoiding caffeine and drinking the majority of your water in the daylight hours, will be your best bet at getting the least pee-disturbed slumber.

SLEEP PROBLEM #2: Leg cramps/aches

Let’s face it, those legs are having to carry a whole load more than they would normally.  It’s understandable that they would ache a little (or a lot!).

What can you do?

Do regular stretches, and gentle exercise each day. 

  • Some evidence suggests that magnesium and potassium levels in the mother’s body may contribute to leg ache/cramps during pregnancy. Speak with your health care provider before embarking upon any supplements, including natural ones.
  • Avoid sitting cross-legged for extended periods.
  • Get plenty of rest and resist the temptation to push-on when your body’s ready to switch-off.
  • Try a warm bath with some essential oils to relax in.
  • If you notice tenderness or swelling in your legs, call your health care provider. Although not common, there is a higher risk of blood clots during pregnancy, and these symptoms can signpost this.  Seek immediate medical attention.

SLEEP PROBLEM #3: Indigestion and heartburn

More than two-thirds of pregnant women suffer from heartburn/indigestion in the second half of pregnancy.

During pregnancy, the placenta produces an increase in Progesterone. Progesterone relaxes the muscles in the womb, so the baby can grow and the womb can prepare for labour. Progesterone in its non-discriminance, also softens other muscles, including the valve that separates the esophagus from the stomach.  This allows gastric acid to travel back up the throat. This is often experienced by a burning sensation that extends from your breastbone up into your throat.

And are you constipated as well? This is because this delightful little hormone also relaxes the intensity of digestive contractions, slowing down the movement of food in your body. A charming little pregnancy by-product. And not to mention your growing little bundle’s pressure on your abdomen, pushing stomach acids back up toward your throat. Delicious.

What can you do?

  • Eat small amounts of food often, and give your body time to digest before bedtime.
  • Avoid certain foods/drinks, including: bubbly drinks, caffeine, citrus foods, tomatoes and highly seasoned/fatty foods.
  • Try resting your head higher at night time. You might even be most comfortable propped-up in an armchair.  Provided you can elevate your legs, this could be a fabulous place to sleep (OK, maybe not fabulous, but that heartburn can be ghastly).  You might need to get creative with this one.
  • Try a glass of low-fat milk. This can act as a natural stomach-acid neutraliser.
  • If your symptoms persist, speak to your pharmacist about pregnancy-safe antacids.

SLEEP PROBLEM #4: General body discomfort

The final trimester is when the most body discomfort may be experienced.  Your body is bulkier, your baby bigger and most active and you’re likely to be finding it extremely difficult to find comfortable (and safe!) sleeping positions. And let’s face it, once you’ve finally bedded down with all your paraphernalia you’ll be up again to pee… or switch that light off.

Women can also feel much warmer when they sleep during pregnancy because of an increased metabolic rate.  Sleeping during this final stage of pregnancy can be very frustrating.

What can you do?

  • The best position to sleep in is lying on your left-hand side. And ladies! We need to keep the pillow situation simple.  This is where a feeding pillow will be your best friend.  Pop it between your knees and it can flip over with you as you turn in bed.  These little beauties work a treat and double-up down the road to support your breastfeeding.  Then all you’ll need is one behind your back for extra support.  Not sure where your partner was planning on sleeping…
  • For the difficulties in tossing and turning, wear a well-designed pregnancy belly band. This will support your bump (and those tired muscles supporting it).  Make sure the band is designed thoughtfully - you’ll be sweaty(!) so remember the breathable, temperature-regulating products here.  This will need to be worn looser than when you wear it during the day, but firm enough to offer the support you need when turning.
  • During the third trimester, sleeping on your left-hand side is best. A mattress topper or an ‘egg carton’ foam surface are ideal to encourage circulation and comfort in this side-lying position.

SLEEP PROBLEM #5: Why all the freakin’ crazy dreams?

If you’re lucky enough to be getting it… SLEEP, I mean, then these might leave you feeling more exhausted in the morning than when you started.

“There is a greater amount of actual dreaming and dream recall when a woman is pregnant than at any other time during her life’’, says Patricia Garfield, Ph.D.  ‘’The dreams will relate to her condition of pregnancy, the trimester she is in, and what is going on in her body at the time’’.

Women report dreams that sit somewhere between Going Off the Rails on the Crazy Train, to the more psychedelic, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds type.  My most disturbing recurring dream was repeatedly giving birth to a friend of mine’s ADULT head (yes.  just the head).  The worst thing was that the head was talking as it was delivered.

Garfield goes on to explain that dream recall is related to recency.  Eg. if a woman needs to wake to pee, or perhaps the baby’s movements wake her, she is more likely to remember a dream she has just had. In comparison to the regular non-pregnant woman, who is likely to just remember the last dream she had before she woke in the morning.

With an increase in the incidence of recall, a pregnant woman is able to also recall the vividness, the detail and the feelings the dreams brought her.  Her dreams might start to reflect her hopes and fears.  I really don’t know how I developed a phobia of delivering a body-less head, but there you go.

What can you do?

It’s natural to have fears and concerns surrounding birth and parenthood, especially if you’re embarking upon this role for the first time. Communicate these with your partner. Unresolved feelings can particularly play on your mind at sleep time. Don’t hesitate to seek professional help, if needed.

You don’t need anyone to tell you how important sleep is. If you’re like me, it might just be your most favored thing! Don’t let it be a fading sweet memory, consider the above to help that clever little bod with the rest that it wants and needs. Cherish and look after it, and prioritise good sleep. And get your hands on whatever resources you can, that will help you.