You know that sleepless nights await you once your baby arrives, so it seems cruel that getting a good nights’ sleep during pregnancy is so hard. If it's not heartburn, sciatica or a restless, squirmy bump, then it's your heavily pressured bladder keeping you awake.
Dr Leigh Signal, co-associate director and a senior research fellow at Massey University's sleep/wake research centre, is undertaking New Zealand's biggest study of sleep during pregnancy. She says the most obvious thing women can do to get better sleep is to make it a big part of their routine, and that the three P's of sleep – planning, prioritising and preparing – are vital.
"I would say the most obvious solution is to make sleep a priority, which I recognise is not always easy,” she says.
"It is a key part of caring for yourself and your growing baby."
There are a few things she says to watch out for while you’re expecting,
“Remember that some changes in sleep when pregnant are expected. However, if you feel worried or concerned about your sleep discuss it with your midwife or healthcare provider.”
If you begin snoring loudly on most nights of the week, or your partner notices that you sometimes seem to stop breathing during sleep, it’s particularly important you mention it to your midwife.
"If your mood changes during pregnancy and you feel more down, depressed or edgy and more worried than usual, then also discuss this with your midwife or healthcare provider," Dr Signal advises.
Dr Signal’s tips for sleep in pregnancy
- Plan your day around getting enough sleep: Limit what you try to do in the evening. Going to bed and falling asleep earlier than normal can be difficult, but don't get to bed later than you normally would. Are there any days when you can sleep in a little?
- Pace yourself: If you feel sleepy during the day and are able to nap, do it. But don't do it if it makes it harder for you to fall asleep at night.
- Prioritise: Make getting enough sleep one of your top priorities.
- Check your position: When sleeping, try to avoid lying on your back. If you can, lie on your left side.
- Support your body: Try to use pillows between your knees, under your tummy to support it and behind your back to make yourself comfortable.
- Don't worry about insomnia: If you can't sleep, don't lie in bed forcing yourself to sleep or worrying about not sleeping. Get up and read a book, knit or crochet something for your baby, write in a journal, or take a warm bath. The more boring and sedate the activity the better. Avoid reading on backlit tablets and phones when trying to sleep - don't be tempted to check in on social media, emails or news during the night.
- Use a night light in the loo: Put a nightlight in the bathroom instead of turning on the light to use the loo. This will help you return to sleep more quickly.
- Try exercise: Unless you have been told by your midwife or healthcare provider not to, try and do at least 30 minutes of exercise per day. It doesn't have to be any special exercise – walking is great, and yoga or pilates are good too. Exercise and relaxation in the day can help with sleep at night.
- Hydrate: Drink lots of fluids during the day, especially water, but cut down on the amount you drink in the hours before bedtime to reduce having to get up at night to go to the toilet.
- Watch your diet: In order to avoid heartburn, do not eat large amounts of spicy, acidic or fried foods. Also, eat frequent small meals throughout the day.
- Take what help you can: If you've already got a child and someone you trust offers to babysit, take them up on it and use the time to relax - get a nap in if you can. It's even better if they offer to care for your child overnight!