By Kendra Smith
In the last few months of pregnancy, sleeping soundly can be tough — a total bummer when you’re preparing for what may be the athletic event of your life: labor. “A lot of times in the late third trimester, it’s just hard to sleep,” agrees Mary L. Rosser, MD, PhD, an ob/gyn at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.
Still, it’s worth trying everything you can to improve your sleep. After all, if you were getting ready to run a marathon, you’d rearrange your sleep schedule for optimal rest. Here are the best ideas from experts and pregnant women like you, taken from our pregnancies communities, for battling common pregnancy sleep culprits.
Along with eating right and having good sleep habits, like keeping electronics out of the bedroom, exercise is one of the top tips for getting better sleep, says Rosser. “When you’re not pregnant, exercise makes you sleep better, so it does the same thing in pregnancy,” she says.
"Try exercising during the daytime. It releases tension and anxiety and improves appetite. I do that all the time when I find it hard to sleep." —abienoona
“It's actually very important to work out while pregnant. It will keep your energy up. You'll have fewer aches and pains, sleep better ... keep unwanted weight off, and you'll bounce back to your pre-pregnancy weight much faster.” —2015Harmony
If you can’t sleep because you’re worried about baby coming, try stress reduction techniques. “Meditation and deep breathing are very helpful at this stage for reducing anxiety,” says Michael Breus, PhD, a clinical psychologist and author of book The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan.
To let go of anxious thoughts, put down the pregnancy book and pick up a journal and write. Or share your concerns with your partner, suggests Rosser. “Two people have made this baby, right? So if a woman is worried, it should be discussed in the partnership.”
Another way your partner can help: a little home pregnancy massage, says Breus. “Many women are so uncomfortable that they do not want a body massage, but a foot, arm or leg massage can be quite enjoyable and reduce stress.” To relax your body, you can also try a warm bath or shower.
“I have had some anxiety but not too much. A bath with a book should help. It really, really helps me.” —dee_lopez
If you find yourself waking up in the night, this could be part of the nesting process, says Rosser. If you feel compelled to get your house ready for the new baby, follow the urge and fold a drawer full of baby clothes. It may be just what you need to settle your nerves and crash out.
And when you do nod off again, every Z counts, says Breus. “Getting any sleep is going to be helpful, even if it is broken,” he says.
“I woke up this morning with bounds of energy and the urge to clean everywhere, which my MIL has noted as my nesting phase beginning!” —chelfylou
Build In Time for Naps or Other Rest
If you’re not already in the habit of taking a pregnancy nap, start now. “That will kind of take the edge off,” says Rosser. Even small, so-called “power naps” of 30 to 45 minutes will help prevent fatigue. Just keep them early in the day.
If you can’t squeeze in a nap, just take a load off, says Rosser: “Lay down and relax and put your feet up for 30 to 45 minutes a day, so that you can recharge your batteries.” Delegate some duties to your partner to make time for you to rest.
"Try taking naps during the day if possible. I stay up until 5, then go to sleep, then my belly wakes me up to eat, then I sleep again." —tasha30214
After the first trimester, your uterus is larger and moves up out of your pelvis. When you’re on your back, it can press on major blood vessels that carry blood to your organs, including the placenta. This makes side sleeping best. To make it more comfortable, wedge a pillow between your knees to set your pelvis more squarely, suggests Rosser.
If you can’t find a comfortable position except your back, “sleep up on a stack of pillows so you’re kind of sitting, with your head propped up,” Rosser recommends. If you suffer back pain at night, try a new position. “The baby will change positions and move off that sciatic nerve,” she says. Even sleeping in a recliner can work.
Your partner can help with positioning, too: have him turn you if he wakes and sees you on your back, or snoring. Persistent snoring in pregnancy or that existed before may require sleep apnea treatment. This more serious condition restricts your oxygen intake, which may restrict oxygen to your baby.
"I put pillows on both sides of myself and between my legs. Just pretty much take two body pillows and surround yourself with them." —Jesseeekka
"Same thing happens to me: I now use a pillow between my legs when I sleep. Helps line up the spine and takes pressure off the pelvic and knee bones." —lovemeX3
Of course staying well hydrated is important, but avoid catching up on fluids past late afternoon or early evening. “I tell women, when you get up in the morning, start hydrating,” says Rosser. “Then by about 5 or 6 o’clock you have consumed enough fluid so that you don’t need to drink as much going forward.” Drinking too late in the day means getting up to go to the bathroom multiple times every night.
“Try not drinking anything 1 to 3 hours before bed.” —nutz19
If you get into a cycle where you can’t sleep, ask your ob/gyn if you can try Benadryl, Rosser suggests. This antihistamine can be bought over the counter and is considered safe in pregnancy. Start with the smallest dose, she advises. Avoid taking Benadryl every night; it’s best to use it only when you really need it, especially because it can have the side effect of making you groggy the next day.
“I take two Benadryl every night before bed. It helps me sleep and helps me through the next day with my allergies.” —MarissaBaby_2
While not sleeping well late in the third trimester is normal, being extremely tired can mean something else is at play, especially if your fatigue comes on before 36 weeks and, prior to pregnancy, you dealt with depression, high blood pressure, asthma or another condition. If so, check with your doctor to rule out an iron deficiency or other problem related to fatigue.
Published on November 17, 2015.
Kendra Smith, formerly an editor at Pregnancy magazine, is a wellness and lifestyle writer and editor in San Francisco.
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