Tips for Getting More Sleep During Pregnancy

Having trouble sleeping during pregnancy? Here's how to get some rest

Illustration by Anke Weckmann

Illustration by Anke Weckmann

The fuzzy numbers on the alarm clock across the room tell me that it’s just after four in the morning. I should be sleeping—pregnant women need all the rest they can get, according to the stack of baby books on my nightstand—but nature calls. Again.

These late-night washroom trips are just one of the many sleep issues that women may encounter during pregnancy as physical and emotional changes begin to take their toll. “Most women, especially in the last trimester, wake up frequently, whether it’s to pee, or because of aches and pains, or simply because they’re light sleepers,” says Karen Buhler, MD, a family doctor and former head of the department of family practice at BC Women’s Hospital & Health Centre. “Most don’t have trouble getting back to sleep, but they find that they just keep waking.”

Getting “A Good Night’s Rest”
As difficult as it may be while you’re feeling emotionally drained and sleep-deprived, now may be the time to redefine what “a good night’s rest” means. “It’s a matter of changing your perception,” says Dr. Buhler. “If you have the expectation that ‘I need eight solid hours of sleep without ever waking up, because that’s what represents a good night’s sleep for me,’ you’ll be disappointed.”

Anna Cleverley Ferguson, mom of 13-month-old Phoebe, found that her sleep actually improved after her baby arrived. “I remember everyone saying, ‘You think you’re tired now, just wait until the baby is born!’” says the mom from Cambridge, Ont. “But I was waking up every two hours during my pregnancy. So when Phoebe was born, the first night was the best night’s sleep I’d had in months, even though she was waking up every three to four hours.”

Beyond Physical
For Ann Lamanes, mom of four-month-old Tyler, carrying the weight of a growing baby on her small frame made it difficult to find a comfortable sleeping position, though a body pillow provided some relief. But it wasn’t just the physical challenges of pregnancy that kept the Hamilton, Ont.-based mom awake. “The things that go through your head keep you up too,” she says. “You’re thinking about the baby, what the baby is going to be like, and all the things you’re facing. For me, it was thinking about the massive shift that was about to take place in my life and how everything with the pregnancy came at me very quickly.”

Read More: How to Pick the Perfect Pillow

“Pregnancy is an exciting time of life, but it’s also a challenging time,” says Robyn Stremler, PhD, associate professor in the Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing at the University of Toronto and principal investigator on the Sleep TYME (Throughout Your Motherhood Experience) study. “You’re gearing up for a major change, and some women find it harder to fall asleep because they’re making lists of all the things they need to do, or because of anxiety about the impending labour.”

When to Seek Help
While some changes in your sleep are natural during pregnancy, it’s important to recognize the warning signs of something more serious and seek help. One sign of depression is appetite changes. After the first trimester, it is uncommon for a pregnant woman to lose interest in food, says Dr. Buhler, who also notes the two most common indicators for depression are “to feel either of these things often: Lack of interest or pleasure in doing things and feeling down, depressed or hopeless.”

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