The many unknowns of pregnancy often awaken worrisome feelings in women, sometimes causing moments of panic or anxiety: Will I be a good mom? What will labor be like?
“The shock of finding out about the pregnancy or worrying about miscarriage can also affect sleep,” says Vicki Mendiratta, M.D., assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. She suggests focusing on serious issues during daylight hours, when problems don’t loom as large, and keeping things light at night in the hours before bed. If anxiety doesn’t disappear, counseling may help.
You can feel ill at night as easily as the morning, and nausea is a notorious sleep stealer.
Help lessen nausea by avoiding trigger foods and eating very little an hour or two before bedtime. An extra 25 milligrams of vitamin B6 (in addition to your prenatal multivitamin) or ginger may also help, Mendiratta says.
You’ll feel like a million bucks during the second trimester, but you won’t be immune to sleep problems. You could be too excited to sleep because you’re mapping out the nursery at night or you’ve worked out too late in the day.
“Don’t do cardiovascular exercise in the evening,” Mendiratta says. “You don’t want to get your heart rate up.” Instead, take a warm shower and skip caffeine altogether. If that doesn’t help, an over-the-counter sleep aid such as Unisom can help, Mendiratta says.
Maybe you never snored before, but weight gain makes it much more likely, and snoring can be a sign of sleep apnea, a common problem that can seriously affect breathing.
“If you’re not getting enough oxygen, the baby isn’t either,” says National Sleep Foundation spokesperson Joyce Walsleben, Ph.D., associate professor at NYU School of Medicine in New York City.Tell your doctor; you may need a sleep study to diagnose the condition. A CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine for the apnea or Breathe Right Nasal Strips for snoring might help.
RESTLESS LEG SYNDROME
During the second half of pregnancy, many women get a jittery feeling in their legs as they nod off to sleep, which jolts them awake. Low iron can be the culprit. “You don’t have to be anemic, just on the low side,” Mindell says. “A simple blood test and iron supplements can help.”
The bigger you get, the more likely you are to develop that uncomfortable burning sensation behind your breastbone. Who can lie down— much less fall asleep—with that feeling?
“Eat small meals throughout the day, and have dinner well before bedtime,” Mindell says.“Over-the-counter medications such as Tums can help—it’s just calcium. Propping yourself up in bed can also work.”
When your bulging uterus starts crowding your bladder, you’ll need more frequent nighttime trips to the bathroom.
Don’t cut down on your fluid intake—that’s bad for the baby—but hydrate more during the day and less after dinner. And when you do get up, “stay in the dark as much as possible,” Walsleben says. “Light is disruptive to sleep.”
Your back aches when you lie down. Your heartburn flares. Your calf keeps cramping.You toss and turn, searching for a pleasing position.Are you out of luck until your due date?
Look for support from a new best friend, such as a body pillow or recliner chair, to get through the last month or two. And whatever works, go with it. “A lot of books say to sleep on your left side, but sleep however you sleep,” Mendiratta says. “If that means flat on your back, on your tummy, or with two pillows between your legs, so be it. Sleeping however you’re comfortable can give you the best quality of sleep.”
Tips from the trenches
Get quality shut-eye with advice from these wellrested moms.
“Without exercise, I’ll stare at the ceiling for hours. Twenty minutes on the elliptical machine and two sets of squats puts me into a sound slumber.”
—Kelly Cardamone, Chevy Chase, MD
“I learned to avoid soft drinks in the evening.They gave me severe heartburn when I tried to lie down.”
—Melissa James, Hampton, VA
“I drink my 8 glasses of water before 4 p.m., then suck on ice before bed to keep my mouth wet and bladder empty.”
—Linsey Knerl, Tekamah, NE
“At night, a hot shower or bath relaxes my achy body and soothes away all the tension of pregnancy and dealing with a toddler.”
—Tiffany Love, Burbank, CA
“My #1 sleep inducer was a nightly foot massage from my husband.It was relaxing and something I looked forward to each night.”
—Robin Plotkin, Dallas
“I used to read pregnancy books before bed, but I’d wake up often, thinking about everything that could go wrong.Instead, I read great fiction.”
—Beth Rodriguez, Evansville, IN
“I put the lower part of a body pillow between my legs and the upper part under my belly and breasts.It helps me stay on my side, and my back doesn’t hurt as much in the morning.”
—Jayme Taylor, Steilacoom, WA
Chew on this
Some people swear by warm milk while others prefer jam and toast. But can certain bedtime snacks really induce drowsiness?
“There’s no magic food that makes you sleep better,” Mindell says, not even the oft-cited tryptophan-containing turkey: “You’d have to eat four pounds to get sleepy.”
Striking the right balance between a full or empty stomach can be tricky during pregnancy. “You don’t want to go to bed hungry,” says Walsleben, “but a full meal can exacerbate heartburn. Small meals are best, an hour or two before bed.”
Hunger rouses some pregnant women, including Angela Burke of Clearwater, FL, whose first child was born in June. “I’d get up at 2 a.m. and be wide awake,” she says. “Milk and a PB&J sandwich did the trick; my body must have needed the extra calories.”
After the baby comes…
You know that newborns don’t sleep more than a couple of hours in a row.How will you get enough rest to adjust to your new role as mom?Try these suggestions:
■ Sleep whenever your baby does; don’t tidy the house or answer e-mail at nap time.
■ At night, only do feedings.Have your husband get the baby, change the diaper, and put her to bed after she’s eaten.
■ Go to sleep early and have your husband do the 11 p.m. feeding; you can get 5 hours in before the 3 a.m. feeding.(Pump if you’re nursing.)
■ Learn to nurse lying down, so you can doze while your baby eats.
– Lisa Fields