Getting the sleep you need during pregnancy
If you're finding it hard to fall and stay asleep now you're pregnant, you're not alone. As many as nine out of 10 mums-to-be have difficulty sleeping during pregnancy. Fortunately, there are plenty of things you can try to get more rest.
Can using pillows help?
During pregnancy, it's best to sleep on your side if you can, as this provides the best blood flow to your baby. By the third trimester, sleeping on your side actually reduces the risk of stillbirth. It can be hard to get comfy in this position though, especially as your bump grows.
Pillows are a great way to support your growing bump and get more comfortable in bed. Try tucking one pillow under your tummy and another pillow between your legs.
You can also get pillows made specially for pregnancy. They come in many shapes and sizes, and can be used alone or with other pillows. They aim to support and ease the pressure in key areas of your body – your back, neck, bump, knees and hips. There hasn't been much research done into how much they help, but many mums and midwives swear by them. Look out for:
Single or double pregnancy wedge
This wedge-shaped pillow is designed to support your tummy when you lie on your side, and some women find that it helps with back pain. The double pregnancy wedge is two pillows, attached with adjustable tabs, to support your bump and back at the same time.
Full-length body pillow
These pillows are at least 1.5m long and are designed to support your back and cradle your belly. Some are flexible so you can arrange them into the shape that best suits you. Others come pre-shaped, for example as L-shapes, V-shapes, C-shapes or U-shapes.
Will having a bedtime snack help?
What you eat and, more importantly, when you eat it, can affect the quality of your sleep. You may sleep better if you don’t eat a big evening meal, and avoid fatty or spicy foods before bedtime. These can cause heartburn and indigestion, and may make it harder to drift off.
If you often wake in the night feeling hungry or nauseous, a light snack before bed may help. Aim for something containing carbohydrate and protein, such as cereal with milk, or cheese and crackers.
How can I learn to relax?
Try listening to our relaxation podcasts. Or practise one of these simple, time-tested techniques to help calm your mind and relax your muscles:
Yoga and stretching are a great way to wind down at the end of the day, and can also help to keep you toned and flexible. There are lots of different types of yoga, so try to choose something gentle that's designed specifically for pregnancy.
Not sure where to start? Our series of pregnancy yoga videos makes it easy. Or check online to see if there are any antenatal yoga classes available near you.
A soothing massage can work wonders on tense or tired muscles, and help with backache. You may find it's the perfect way to wind down before bed. Massaging your feet and legs can also help to prevent or ease restless legs syndrome, if you suffer from that at night.
Ask your partner to give you a massage as part of a soothing wind-down routine. Or discover how to give yourself an amazing foot massage. Can't reach your feet now? Discover how to massage your bump. Some massage techniques are good for labour too, so encourage your birth partner to start practising now!
If you visit a professional massage therapist, make sure she is experienced in working with pregnant women. In later pregnancy, a professional therapist should use a table and pillow that's comfortable for your bump.
Breathing slowly and deeply can relax you, helping you drift naturally off to sleep. Focusing on your breath can also help to calm your mind and distract you from any worries. Try breathing deeply into your belly to get the full effect.
Learn about yoga breathing in pregnancy, and check out some relaxing breathing techniquesthat can also help with labour.
Progressive muscle relaxation
This is a technique where you tense all the muscles in your body, one by one, then relax them again. The idea is that it helps you focus on your body and really notice as your muscles become more relaxed. It's often used to ease stress and anxiety, as well as to aid sleep.
Here's how to do progressive muscle relaxation:
Sit or lie in a comfortable position. This is an ideal exercise to try once you're already in bed for the night.
Tense the muscles in your toes and feet for five seconds to 10 seconds.
Relax the muscles while slowly breathing out, paying close attention to how you feel as the tension leaves your body.
Repeat with your lower legs, then thighs and so on, alternating from one side of your body to the other. Tense and relax the different muscle groups in your body, ending with your face and head.
You can even try to visualise the stress leaving your body as you relax each muscle group. Practice this technique for 10 to 20 minutes a day, and you'll soon learn how to tell when your body is stressed, and how to relax it again.
Picture yourself in a quiet, relaxing scene. You may be lying on a warm, sandy beach or strolling through fields full of beautiful, scented wildflowers.
Now visualise every detail of the scene. Imagine the sounds, smells and textures around you. If you can't picture a setting, use an image from a photograph or magazine and fill in the missing details.
You may have to work at staying focused, but it's worth persevering. Guided imagery can calm your restless or anxious mind. Even if you don't slip into a long, deep sleep, it will at least help you to get some rest.
Try our garden guided imagery meditation the next time you're having trouble sleeping.
Is exercise a good idea?
Regular exercise during pregnancy makes you healthier in mind and body. It can give you an energy boost to get you through the day, whilst also making it easier for you to sleep at night. Just check with your midwife before starting a new exercise programme.
Try to avoid vigorous exercise before bed, though. Working up a sweat in the close to bedtime can interfere with your natural sleep cycle. Instead, plan your exercise sessions for the late afternoon or early evening, or stick to gentle exercises and stretches, such as yoga or Pilates.
Are complementary therapies safe?
It's important to be cautious with herbal remedies in pregnancy. There hasn't been much research into how they could affect your developing baby. So err on the side of caution, and talk to your midwife or a qualified practitioner before trying any alternative remedies or therapies.
See our expert advice on specific herbal teas and other herbal remedies in pregnancy.
Although there isn't much research to show that they work, many mums-to-be find essential oils helpful for easing pregnancy niggles such as backache, nausea and swollen ankles, as well as for getting a better night's sleep. Not all essential oils are safe in pregnancy though, so check with a qualified practitioner or a midwife with experience of alternative therapies before using them.
Find out which essential oils are safe, and how to use them, or learn more about aromatherapy in pregnancy.
Are sleeping pills safe?
Will taking an afternoon nap affect my night's sleep?
It may do. It's absolutely fine to take afternoon naps to help you through the day when you're exhausted. But if you find that this makes you even less sleepy at night, you could cut down on napping, or take your snooze earlier in the day.
Even with all these techniques, you'll probably still have the occasional sleepless night. Keep your spirits up by reminding yourself that this is a completely normal part of pregnancy, and will not affect your baby.