Are you pregnant, exhausted and lying in bed—but wide awake? Eileen Sloan, a psychiatrist at the Toronto Sleep Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital, says up to 80 percent of pregnant women experience pregnancy insomnia—difficulty falling or staying asleep—at some point during the nine months they're growing a baby, and it’s a significant issue for about 20 percent of moms-to-be.
While fatigue is virtually universal in pregnancy and often starts in the first three months, insomnia is more common towards the end. It could be because you’re constantly getting up to pee, struggling to manoeuvre your expanding belly into a comfortable position, or simply because you’re lying awake worrying about all the things you have to do before your baby arrives. But no matter the cause, here are some expert tips to help you get the rest you need.
1. Stay up late While it may seem counter-intuitive, Sloan says that rather than going to bed early, if you’re having trouble sleeping, you should actually turn in later than you normally would. “The physiological pressure to fall asleep is stronger,” she says, adding that, over time, your brain will connect being in bed at that time of night with sleeping, and that association will make it easier to drift off. But while you’re playing night owl, be sure to spend your time doing a quiet, restful activity—like reading a book, or taking a bath. Screens should be turned off an hour before bedtime because the blue light emitted by electronics suppresses the secretion of the sleep hormone melatonin.
2. Nap strategically People with insomnia are often told not to nap. But Sloan says there may be an exception to this rule for pregnant women, who may feel very tired during the day and need a rest. The key, though, is to take your siesta at the right time—between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., when there’s a natural dip in your body’s circadian rhythm. Of course, if you’re at the office, crawling back into bed might not be an option. If you live near your workplace and can time your lunch so that you can get in a quick 20-minute nap, great. If not, go for a soothing, leisurely stroll instead. In 2015, researchers at the University of Birmingham found a lunchtime walk releases tension and helps you feel more relaxed and able to cope—and this, says Sloan, can help you get a better sleep at night. One thing you shouldn’t do if you’re having trouble sleeping at night is pass out on the couch after work. “If you take a nap around 6 p.m., that’s the time your circadian rhythm is on the rise,” Sloan says. “You’re going to disrupt your nighttime sleep.”
3. Get out of bed You want your brain to connect being in bed with sleeping, so if you’ve been tossing and turning for 15 to 20 minutes, and you’re still wide awake, get up, leave the room, and go somewhere to do a quiet activity, like knitting or flipping through a magazine, suggests Sloane. Try your bed again in 20 minutes to see if you’re now ready to drift off. If not, get up again. As hard as it is, try not to stress out about being awake. “We say to ourselves, ‘I’m never going to fall asleep, this is horrible. I’ll be so tired tomorrow,’” Sloane says. “But worrying just makes it harder to fall asleep. The truth is, we are able to get up, and we do function the next day.”
4. Mind over matter In some women, anxiety amps up during pregnancy—if you notice you’re in a constant state of worry, you should speak to your doctor. If you’re feeling mildly worried or anxious, meditation or yoga can help relax you and put you in a better frame of mind for sleep, as can light exercise, such as walking or swimming, during the day, as long as your doctor has OK’d physical activity. But if you’ve been dealing with insomnia your entire pregnancy, she suggests talking to your healthcare provider because your sleep troubles could be a sign of depression or anxiety.
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