Pregnancy can be an emotionally and physically exhausting experience, especially for the majority of pregnant women who have trouble falling or staying asleep. According to a National Sleep Foundation poll, 78 percent of women said they had more trouble sleeping during pregnancy than at any other time in their lives. Sleep disorders can result in fatigue, sleepiness, and trouble concentrating during the day.
Sleep disorders not only cause daytime sleepiness and fatigue, they may also pose real dangers to mothers and babies. Studies show that women who slept six hours or fewer each night had longer labors and were 4.5 times more likely to have cesarean deliveries.
Most mothers know they must overcome insomnia for their own health and the health of their babies, they also know they must avoid medicines that can potentially cause fetal harm. Most drugs that treat insomnia carry some degree of risk and not recommended for pregnant women. Doctors recommend pregnant women use non-medicinal sleep aids to improve both the quality and the quantity of sleep each night.
Drug-Free Sleep Aids Safe during Pregnancy
Drug-free sleep aids help pregnant women cope with insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome (RLS), and other sleep disorders. Coping mechanisms include scheduling and prioritizing sleep during pregnancy, reducing fluid intake before bed, and avoiding large, spicy meals that cause heartburn. Eating small, frequent meals throughout the day also reduces nighttime heartburn.
- A pregnant woman can participate in moderate exercise lasting 30-minutes per day, with physician approval, to burn off calories and excess energy. Prenatal yoga and restorative yoga can help her learn to relax, and to rest completely and deeply. Relaxation and meditation classes are helpful too.
- Computers, laptops, tablets, and electronic games stimulate the brain and can cause insomnia; watching television can keep a woman awake as well. Pregnant women should turn off electronics at least one hour before bed. One exception, however, might be the use of meditation or relaxation podcasts to help fall asleep.
- Lavender essential oil produces a slight calming, soothing, and sedative effect proven effective in the treatment of insomnia and anxiety. The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends two to four drops of lavender oil per 2 – 3 cups of boiling water for inhalation. She can also put a few drops on her wrists and temples to aid relaxation. Though lavender oil can be suitable for internal use, a pregnant woman should not ingest herbal remedies without first consulting her doctor.
- Body aches can decrease the length and quality of sleep. A pregnant woman should sleep on her left side with her knees and hips bent, and place regular pillows between her knees and under her abdomen along with a body contour pillow behind her back. This will reduce take pressure of the lower back and improve blood flow. Relaxation music at bedtime can help to reduce stress and melt away tension.
- Light can interrupt sleep and fully awaken a drowsy person. A darkened room is best for restful sleep. Try using an eye mask to block ambient light and keep the bedroom completely dark. If trips to the bathroom are frequent, pregnant women should use a nightlight in the bathroom so they do not have to turn on the light.
When coping mechanisms fail, an expectant mother should drink a cup of chamomile tea, take a warm bath, read a book, crochet a baby blanket, or write a letter – anything but lie in the bed and watch the clock. Daytime naps will help reduce fatigue, but remember that late-day naps may interfere with a good night’s sleep.