While we at Sleepopolis understand each expecting parent’s pregnancy is unique, there are some common sleep problems that can occur throughout the pregnancy. As an expectant parent, you may be wondering how your sleep might be affected during pregnancy and how to address these issues. We are going to break down the most common sleep-related problems that occur during each trimester.
Sleep during the First Trimester
While this may not come as a surprise, studies have found that the majority of pregnancies result in sleep alterations. These include changes in one’s sleep pattern and duration as well as sleep issues due to physical changes occurring in pregnancy. (1)
To find out more about how sleep is affected in the first trimester, I spoke to Kaleb Scroggin, DC, CACCP, who is a Board Certified Pediatric Chiropractor. He explained that “during the first trimester the new baby is growing at a very rapid pace, needing a ton of energy from [the parent].” Because of this, according to Dr. Scroggin, the parent needs more sleep, but accommodations must be made to allow for more rest. Otherwise, the parent will likely be tired throughout the day.
There are a few common issues that can affect sleep in the first trimester:
- Exhaustion. If you’re experiencing extreme fatigue, try, as Dr. Scroggin suggests, “delegating tasks, arranging naps, and curating a more sleep-friendly environment.” You’ll want to be careful how much sleep you do during the day. As Kim Langdon, MD, of Medzino says, “Daytime sleeping may contribute to problematic evening/nighttime sleep patterns.”
- Backaches. If back pain is disrupting your sleep, try using a different mattress. In addition, studies have shown that low intensity exercises before pregnancy and in the first trimester are able to improve posture, increase the ability to bear weight, and help with pain after it occurs. This is because exercise can strengthen one’s abdominal, back, and pelvic muscles. (2)
- Nausea and vomiting. If you are experiencing nausea and vomiting, you may want to consider dietary changes. A 2003 study by American Family Physician, which observed pregnant people exhibiting nausea and vomiting issues, suggested starting with dietary changes and then including medications if needed. For these changes, the study says, “Solid foods should be bland tasting, high in carbohydrates, and low in fat.” According to the study, if you eat salty foods, it is best to do so in the morning for the optimum likelihood of tolerability. (3)
Sleep during the Second Trimester
During the second trimester, a parent’s sleep is affected in similar and different ways than the first trimester. As in the first trimester, back and other musculoskeletal aches and pains are common.
According to Stacy Sutton, a licensed physical therapist and board-certified Women’s Health Clinical Specialist, “this is due to a change in [the parent’s] center of gravity, increased muscle demand, and fluctuating hormone levels. The ligaments that support the joints get a little bit softer, so there is less joint stability.”
Specific to the second trimester are issues that can negatively impact sleep, such as:
- Frequent urination. While this can occur throughout all three trimesters, it is especially common during the second trimester. This is because, as Dr. Scroggin says, “as the uterus, baby, placenta, and amniotic fluid take up more and more space, it leaves less and less room for [the parent’s] bladder.” To help with this, Dr. Sutton suggests drinking water no sooner than two hours before going to sleep, while making sure to drink eight to ten 8-ounce glasses of water throughout the day.
- Musculoskeletal aches and pains. While this can include back pain, it can also refer to other parts of the body, particularly the pelvis. Dr. Sutton says, “Musculoskeletal aches and pains affect pregnant [folks] during every trimester.” A 2008 study done by Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine, which looked at pregnant people experiencing musculoskeletal pain, suggests that exercising three times a week for 12 weeks in the latter half of the pregnancy can significantly decrease pain. (2)
Sleep during the Third Trimester
The third trimester brings its own set of sleeping problems, along with the problem of back/musculoskeletal pain.
Dr. Langdon says that the third trimester consists of “overall discomfort, frequent need to urinate, [and] breathing abnormalities due to altered diaphragm movements.” These all make sleeping problematic. She explains how the third trimester often includes snoring as an issue, going on to say that “the mucous membranes of the nose and sinuses get more engorged and that impairs air flow and breathing.”
Here are some more issues you may encounter during the third trimester:
- Anxiety. While this can occur throughout the entire pregnancy, as time gets closer for the baby’s birth, anxiety levels can rise. To alleviate anxiety, consider continuing to educate yourself about your pregnancy and making sure you have a sufficient support system in place. As Dr. Scroggin says, “If [the parent] has that support and knowledge that [they are] prepared for this huge change, then [they] will sleep much better at night.”
- Insomnia. To explain the effects of insomnia during pregnancy, I spoke with Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH, FACOG, who is a Double Board Certified in OB/GYN and Maternal Fetal Medicine as well as the Director of Perinatal Services at NYC Health and Hospitals/Lincoln. Dr. Gaither cites increase rates of insomnia as being an issue particularly in the third trimester, occurring due to “frequent trips to the bathroom to urinate, back discomforts, leg cramps, marked fetal movement, difficulty in trying to find a comfortable position, and strange dreams.” But how can you fight insomnia during pregnancy?
- Dr. Gaither suggests using extra pillows for support, keeping daytime naps short, avoiding caffeinated drinks, keeping a regular sleep schedule, and drinking warm milk, due to the tryptophan it contains.
- A 2013 study in The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association, which observed pregnant people with insomnia, recommends trying yoga to improve sleep quality. It is best to do this prior to the start of the third trimester. (4)
Last Word From Sleepopolis
While these are just some common sleep problems, we understand that every pregnancy presents its own unique sleep challenges. We hope we’ve shown you how it’s important for you to sleep well throughout your pregnancy—both for your own well-being and your child’s development.
- Pien G and Schwab R. Sleep disorders during pregnancy. SLEEP, Nov 1, 2004
- Sabino J and Grauer J. Pregnancy and low back pain. Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine, June 2008
- Quinlan, J. and Hill, D. Nausea and vomiting of pregnancy. American Family Physician, July 1, 2003
- Hollenbach, D, et al. Non-pharmacological interventions for sleep quality and insomnia during pregnancy: A systematic review. The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association. Sep, 2013
Vanessa Osorio & Paul Joe Watson
This article was co-written by Vanessa Osorio, a member of the team here at Sleepopolis, and Paul Joe Watson, a regular contributor to our sleep health content. A member of our expert panel, Stacy Sutton PT, DPT, WCS, provided medical insight on how pregnancy impacts sleep and how expectant parents can get better sleep at different stages. Read Vanessa’s full bio on our about us page, and learn more about Paul in his full bio.