When you feel uncomfortable, exhausted and are ballooning by the day as your pregnancy grows, the last thing you need is the inability to sleep properly. You’ll know you’re suffering with pregnancy insomnia if you have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early, but feeling exhausted.
Occassional insomnia is expected, but if you are suffering regularly through the week, then you probably have chronic insomnia. So what causes this and how can we make a difference so we can rest happily?
Usually, it is the hormonal changes in pregnancy which cause insomnia. The same hormonal surges contribute to other pregnancy irritations which interrupt sleep, such as snoring, restless legs, heartburn, stuffy nose and the need to go to the toilet… frequently. Added to which, you may be worrying about things, feeling completely uncomfortable in bed or have a very active baby, or all of the above… a recipe for a dreadful night.
So, let’s figure out some strategies to help you get through this…
1. Exercise is important during pregnancy, and there are many benefits as outlined by the Royal College of Obstricians and Gynaecologists. not least, helping to increase your ability to sleep. Many wonderful things happen during sleep, including digestion, tissue repair and the burning of body fat for vital energy, so getting the right amount of exercise will definitely help. A good 30 min walk or training session every day may be just what you need to activate those sleep hormones. Try not to exercise too close to bedtime so you avoid activating your sympathetic nervous system (elevating stress hormones) as this will keep you awake. If you do exercise at night, then make sure you finish your routine with some meditation and calm breathing in dim light to reduce the stress hormones and activate your parasympathetic nervous system.
2. Nutrition is a key factor in our overall health and sleep patterns. You’ve probably already started to watch what you eat, now you are nourishing two of you, but it’s always worth a recap on what’s helpful and what’s not. The biggest problem we have in our food is hidden sugar, which for some people, can be a recipe for keeping you up at night. Pregnancy cravings can make you want sugar, so you might feel a bit hard done by if I say, cut the sugar… but lets delve further into the cravings, as this will help you to understand better.
3. Lack of sleep can be linked to low levels of magnesium in the body. In many cases this manifests itself as a carb or sugar craving. So if you balance your magnesium levels, you’ll be on your way to curbing those cravings. Some other signs of magnesium deficiency include muscle twitches, restless legs, cramps and insomnia. If you’re not sure, you can ask your GP to test your blood for deficiencies. The recommended daily intake of magnesium for a pregnant women under 30 years old is 310mg per day, and 320mg for those over 30 years. Check your magnesium allowance in your pregnancy vitamin and if it falls short of the RDA, and you know you’re not getting in enough natural sources of magnesium, you can supplement your intake with electrolyte solutions with added magnesium. An imbalance of electrolytes is also linked to nausea, so kill two birds with one stone here.
Some natural sources of magnesium:
- Green leafy vegetables (e.g. spinach and kale)
- Fruit (figs, avocado, banana and raspberries)
- Nuts and seeds.
- Vegetables (peas, broccoli, cabbage, green beans, artichokes, asparagus, brussels sprouts)
- Seafood (salmon, mackerel, tuna)
4. Low levels of Vitamin D can also lead to sleep disturbances, so make sure you are getting the right amount. If you are taking a Vitamin D supplement, you will need to take Vitamin K2 with it for the absorption to take place, otherwise you will continue to become deficient. Get out in the day light as often as you can to absorb Vitamin D naturally too…
5. Eat only light meals at night. Have at least two hours after eating before you go to bed, to reduce heartburn and digestive issues, which will interupt your sleep. High starch meals will aggravate your heartburn, so avoid mashed potato and pasta at night.
6. Keep your Caffiene intake minimal, and consume during the first half of the day so that your sleep doesn’t suffer. Make sure you know what foods contain caffeine: Foods to avoid.
7. Electronic devices expose you to Blue light which has a real impact on your ability to drop off to sleep. Get into a good bedtime habit with a routine to calm you down and put your devices away at least 20 minutes before you turn in. Alternatively, if you must be on your phone, wear blue light blocking glasses to help you avoid the disruption of the sleep hormone, melatonin. We produce the sleep hormone melatonin when the lights are lovely and low and the energy in the room is calm.
8. Get comfortable! If it means building your own bespoke bed with dozens of pillows, then do it… get the temperature right and support your pregnant body as much as you need so that discomfort doesn’t break your sleep. The ideal temperature for sleep is 16-18 Celsius or 60-67 Fahrenheit. Sleep on your left (even when not pregnant) for many health benefits, including digestion, circulation and of course for the optimal positioning for baby.
9. Meditation is a smart tool for aiding good sleep. If you are not a natural at this skill, then seek help with a guided meditation like ChillMama.
This meditation is all about confidence for pregnancy and birth, but also helps you to calm down, chill out and drift off. If you combine a calming bedtime routine with a final bedtime meditation, you’ve done your best to get into the sleep zone and hopefully it will work.
It’s tough figuring out what will work for you, but be patient, try one thing at a time and see how you feel. If you are really struggling and none of these tips have helped, please reach out to your midwife or GP and ask for help.
Any questions, feel free to ask me in the comments…
About the blogger:
Marie Behenna is the author of The FitMama Method, published by Souvenir Press 2012 and creator of the ChillMAMA Pregnancy Meditation
Marie teaches exercise and nutrition to pregnant and post partum mothers in North Hampshire, United Kingdom. www.fitmamastudio.com