During pregnancy, you may find yourself wrestling in bed trying to get comfortable before falling asleep. Unfortunately, your regular sleeping positions may no longer work for you during pregnancy.
There are a number of reasons for this new discomfort, but there are some sleeping positions that you can try that may help you get your much-needed rest.
Why Sleeping Can Be Difficult
The first and most pressing reason behind sleep problems during pregnancy is the increasing size of the fetus, which can make it hard to find a comfortable sleeping position. If you’ve always been a back or stomach sleeper, you might have trouble getting used to sleeping on your side (as doctors recommend). Also, shifting around in bed becomes more difficult as the pregnancy progresses and you get bigger.
Other common physical symptoms may interfere with sleep as well:
The frequent urge to pee
Your kidneys are working harder to filter the increased volume of blood moving through your body, and this filtering process creates more urine. And, as your baby grows and the uterus gets bigger, the pressure on your bladder increases. This means more trips to the bathroom, day and night. The number of nighttime trips may be greater if your baby is particularly active at night.
Increased heart rate
Your heart rate increases to pump more blood, and as more of your blood supply goes to the uterus, your heart works harder to send sufficient blood to the rest of your body.
Shortness of breath
The increase of pregnancy hormones will cause you to breathe in more deeply. You might feel like you’re working harder to get air. Later on, breathing can feel more difficult as your enlarging uterus takes up more space, resulting in pressure against your diaphragm (the muscle just below your lungs).
Leg cramps and backaches
The extra weight you’re carrying can contribute to pains in your legs or back. During pregnancy, the body also makes a hormone called relaxin, which helps prepare it for childbirth. One of the effects of relaxin is the loosening of ligaments throughout the body, making pregnant women less stable and more prone to injury, especially in their backs.
Heartburn and constipation
Many pregnant women have heartburn, which is when the stomach contents reflux back up into the esophagus. During pregnancy, the entire digestive system slows down and food stays in the stomach and intestines longer, which may cause heartburn or constipation. These can both get worse later on in the pregnancy when the growing uterus presses on the stomach or the large intestine.
Your sleep problems might have other causes as well. Many pregnant women report that their dreams become more vivid than usual, and some even have nightmares.
Stress can interfere with sleep, too. Maybe you’re worried about your baby’s health, anxious about your abilities as a parent, or feeling nervous about the delivery itself. All of these feelings are normal, but they might keep you (and your partner) up at night.
Different Sleep Positions & Their Effects
Sleeping on your stomach
If your favorite position is tummy-down, that’s perfectly fine — until your tummy is the size of a watermelon, at which point you’ll have to switch positions (for what will become very obvious reasons).
Sleeping on your back during pregnancy
Experts recommend pregnant women avoid sleeping on their backs during the second and third trimesters. Why? The back sleep position rests the entire weight of the growing uterus and baby on your back, your intestines and your vena cava, the main vein that carries blood back to the heart from your lower body. This pressure can aggravate backaches and hemorrhoids and make digestion less efficient, interfere with circulation, and possibly cause hypotension (low blood pressure), which can make you dizzy. Less-than-optimal circulation can also reduce blood flow to the fetus, giving your baby less oxygen and nutrients. It’s not unsafe if you find yourself on your back once in a while, but being on your back for prolonged periods of time over weeks and months can be problematic.
Sleeping on your left or right side
During the second and and third trimesters, sleeping on either side — preferably the left, if possible — is ideal for you and your baby-to-be. This position allows for maximum blood flow and nutrients to the placenta (less pressure on the vena cava) and enhances kidney function, which means better elimination of waste products and less swelling in your feet, ankles and hands.
The Best Sleep Position
What’s the safest sleep position during pregnancy? After your fifth month, your back is definitely not best. Sleeping on your back puts extra pressure on your aorta and inferior vena cava, the blood vessels that run behind your abdomen and carry blood back to your heart from your legs and feet. Pressure on these vessels can slow blood circulation to your body — and your baby.
Not back or stomach
You might find it harder to breathe while lying on your back. And because your belly pushes down on your intestines when you lie on your back, this position can also lead to tummy troubles.
How about sleeping on your stomach? That’s not a great idea, either. When you lie face down, your stomach presses on your expanding uterus — not to mention your ballooning breasts.
Left is best
Right now, side sleeping is safest for your baby. Plus, it’s more comfortable for you as your abdomen grows.
Is one side of the body better than the other for sleeping? Experts recommend lying on your left side. It improves circulation, giving nutrient-packed blood an easier route from your heart to the placenta to nourish your baby. Lying on the left side also keeps your expanding body weight from pushing down too hard on your liver. While either side is okay, left is best.
Sleeping Tips During Pregnancy
- Plan, schedule and prioritize sleep!
- Sleep while you can. In order to stay out of sleep debt, get extra zzz’s wherever you can.
- Drink lots of fluids during the day, especially water, but cut down on the amount you drink before bedtime.
- To avoid nausea try to eat bland snacks throughout the day — like crackers.
- Sleep on your left side to improve the flow of blood and nutrients to your fetus.
- Put a nightlight in the bathroom instead of turning on the light to use the bathroom — this will be less arousing and help you return to sleep more quickly.
- Add daytime naps as necessary.