Pregnancy insomnia, which can show up as difficulty falling asleep or waking throughout the night, is a challenge that many pregnant women struggle with. In fact, according to the American Pregnancy Association, pregnancy insomnia affects approximately 78% of pregnant women.1
There are many reasons why sleep disturbances can arise during pregnancy. The hormone changes that are a normal part of pregnancy can do a number on one’s sleep rhythms. In the first trimester, the rapid rise in progesterone which serves to help maintain the pregnancy can make you feel sleepy during the day, while causing sleep fragmentation at night, leading to a night of restless sleep.2 Then in the third trimester, oxytocin, the hormone that helps initiate labor, peaks at night, which can cause disrupted sleep again later in the pregnancy.2
Beyond hormonal changes, many pregnant women experience physical discomfort such as back pain and heartburn at night, as well as the need to urinate frequently throughout the night.1 With all of the emotional ups and downs of pregnancy, anxiety and vivid dreams can get in the way of restful sleep as well.1
To top it all off, we know the body has an increased need for sleep during pregnancy, and getting plenty of deep, restorative sleep is important for healthy pregnancy outcomes.2 So what can you do to improve your sleep?
Eat for sleep
Try adding in a bedtime snack that is naturally high in melatonin, the hormone that helps you fall asleep at night. Pistachios, tart cherry juice, fatty fish, goji berries and bananas are all great options. Think about avoiding foods in the evening that may trigger acid reflux such as spicy foods, tomatoes and pizza, as well as sugary sweets that can disrupt sleep by spiking your blood sugar.
A small protein snack before bed has also been shown to improve sleep quality. Try a handful of almonds or walnuts, a piece of cheese, or a boiled egg to help you drift off more easily.
As your body changes, you may not be able to comfortably sleep in the positions that you used to enjoy. Try using a pregnancy pillow to get cozy and reduce pain by supporting your belly, back and legs.
Practice sleep hygiene
Sleep hygiene is the practice of both a routine and an environment that promotes deep, restful sleep. Keep your bedroom cool and dark by minimizing electronics with LED lights and even using blackout curtains. Avoid watching TV and scrolling through your phone for at least an hour before bed, as the blue light emitted by our screens can disrupt our sleep wake cycles. Opt for reading a book, meditating, or taking a bath instead. Keep your phone out of your bedroom at night both to avoid the temptation to scroll and to reduce your exposure to EMFs, which can disrupt sleep as well. Use an old fashioned alarm clock to wake you up instead!
Wind down with a bath
Studies have shown that soaking in a warm bath before bed for at least ten minutes can significantly improve both quality of sleep and amount of sleep.3 Try adding in a cup of epsom salts, which help to relieve aches and pains and are rich in magnesium, a natural sleep aid. Just be sure to moisturize when you get out! The heat of the bath can exacerbate the already dry and itchy skin that many pregnant women experience.
Take naps during the day
Studies show that frequent daytime naps, defined as more than four naps over the course of two weeks, do not significantly impact nighttime sleep quality or duration.2 So if getting a good night of sleep just feels impossible right now, getting some naps in can help compensate for those lost hours.
Exercise has been shown to improve sleep quality, whether you are pregnant or not. A lot of women find it hard to maintain their usual exercise routine during pregnancy, but it can be helpful to get a bit of movement wherever possible. Taking walks, practicing prenatal yoga, or even doing a more intense workout (safely!) can make it easier to relax and fall asleep in the evening.
Drink herbal tea
There are many herbs that can be used safely during pregnancy, some of which can help promote quality sleep. Try drinking a cup of chamomile, passionflower, lemon balm, skullcap, or ashwagandha as a bedtime tea about an hour before bed. Always check for safety before adding any new herbs to your routine.
Try adding in some magnesium
Magnesium helps to regulate the neurotransmitters that modulate sleep, while reducing anxiety and muscle aches. Magnesium deficiency is incredibly common, affecting approximately 78.9% of pregnant women!4 Ask your doctor about adding a magnesium powder to your bedtime routine. As an added bonus, magnesium also acts as a stool softener, which can help to relieve pregnancy constipation!
- Pregnancy insomnia: Snooze or lose! American Pregnancy Association. (2021, December 9). Retrieved April 16, 2022, from https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/pregnancy-health-wellness/insomnia-during-pregnancy/
- Won CH. Sleeping for Two: The Great Paradox of Sleep in Pregnancy. J Clin Sleep Med. 2015;11(6):593-594. Published 2015 Jun 15. doi:10.5664/jcsm.4760
- Neilson, S. (2019, July 25). A warm bedtime bath can help you cool down and sleep better. NPR. Retrieved April 16, 2022, from https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/07/25/745010965/a-warm-bedtime-bath-can-help-you-cool-down-and-sleep-better
- Orlova, S., Dikke, G., Pickering, G. et al. Risk factors and comorbidities associated with magnesium deficiency in pregnant women and women with hormone-related conditions: analysis of a large real-world dataset. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth 21, 76 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12884-021-03558-2