For a few women especially those who have been pregnant before, pregnancy and sleep disorders are alien to them. Other however experience serious sleep disruptions in all the 9 months of pregnancy. It is estimated that 78% of women will have to cope with pregnancy and sleep problems.
Pregnancy and Sleep: The Hormone Factor
Pregnancy and sleep problems are related in that the hormones produced by the body during this period affect the sleep/wake cycle. In the first trimester, the levels of the hormone progesterone are increased leading to:
- Daytime sleepiness.
- Stress that is related to hormones which lead to insomnia.
- Increased frequency of waking up at night.
Another area where pregnancy and sleep problem are related is where muscles are concerned. There are two levels of sleep: Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and Non-REM. In the REM part of sleep which is related to sleep, muscles are paralyzed – this is very important for normal sleep. The hormones produce in pregnancy disrupt muscle paralysis leading to “light” sleep.
These hormones also have an inhibitory effect on muscles that can lead to snoring. The risk of snoring and sleep apnea is increased in women who become pregnant while obese. Sleep apnea and snoring are partly to blame for the frequent trips to the toilet.
Pregnancy and sleep problems are associated in that the symptoms of pregnancy can cause insomnia. In the first trimester of pregnancy, nausea is common. Nausea can lead to sleep to the inability to sleep.
Pregnancy and sleep: Second Trimester
The effects of pregnancy on sleep problems are less severe in the second trimester. The incidences of waking up to urinate at night are low as the fetus is constantly moving on the bladder thus reducing pressure. In this level of pregnancy, sleep problems are caused by the anxiety more than hormonal factors.
Pregnancy and Sleep: Third Trimester
The cases of disrupted sleep in the trimester are increased because of the following factors:
- The growing baby causes problems in getting a good sleeping position.
- Heartburn and leg cramps which are increased at night.
- Cases of urinating at night return as the big fetus exerts pressure of the bladder.
Pregnancy and Sleep: Important Facts
- About 26% of women experience Restless Leg Syndrome which severely affects sleep.
- About 30-50 % of women experience Gastrointestinal Reflux Disease (GERD) which is most severe at night.
- Women who sleep for less than 6 hour in the 9 months of pregnancy have longer period and are more likely to undergo a caesarian section.
Pregnancy and Sleep: Important Symptoms
Here are some important sleep disorder symptoms seen in pregnant women:
- Restless Leg Syndrome.
- Sleep apnea – difficulty in breathing during sleep.
- Waking up to urinate at night.
Pregnancy and Sleep Problems: Coping Tips
- Use extra pillow to help you get a good sleeping position. To support your back, put a pillow between your legs.
- Drink a cup of milk to reduce heartburn.
- Cut down on the number of fluid in hours leading to bedtime.
- Spicy foods should be avoided as the increase the effects of heartburn.
- Reinforce you sleep/wake cycle by developing positive sleep habits.
- Try to exercise at least 5 hours before bedtime.