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Health & Pregnancy

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Sleep Soundly During Pregnancy

When you're pregnant, a host of discomforts conspire to rob you of sleep. From heartburn to leg cramps to endless bathroom trips, catching those much-needed ZZZs can be a big challenge. Here's help.

Minor Annoyances

A bulging tummy isn't the only thing that gets in the way of a good night's sleep. Heartburn is a common problem during pregnancy. Henderson says hormonal changes relax the muscle between the esophagus and the stomach, allowing stomach acid to burble up, causing acid reflux or heartburn. "Treat it as it occurs," he says. Take an over-the-counter antacid, and prop up your head with pillows to keep the stomach acid down.

"In some instances, heartburn is simply heartburn," Santa-Donato says. But it can also be a sign of other, more serious health problems, so you should mention it at your next checkup.

The need to urinate frequently -- because the uterus presses on the bladder -- may also keep you up during the night. This may be less of a problem if you simply limit what you drink before bed.

Some women say their dreams become more vivid and intense when they are pregnant, which further disturbs sleep. Carolyn D'Ambrosio, MD, director of the Center for Sleep Medicine at Boston's Tufts University, says she has heard of this, but she doesn't know of any scientific studies that have shown why, or how common it is. "I'm not sure that's absolutely established," she says.

Sleep Disorders

The most serious sleep disorder a pregnant woman can develop is sleep apnea. In sleep apnea, the airway closes and breathing stops many times during the night. The ensuing lack of oxygen can be harmful to the developing fetus. It also causes sudden awakenings, which makes for fitful, restless sleep and fatigue the next day. What's more, D'Ambrosio says there is some evidence that sleep apnea is linked to another condition called preeclampsia, in which a pregnant woman has abnormally high blood pressure, swelling, and protein in her urine. Preeclampsia can lead to low birth weight, premature delivery, and in some cases, death.

Loud snoring is a symptom of sleep apnea. Women who didn't snore before becoming pregnant and who have trouble breathing at night may have the condition. "They should get that evaluated," D'Ambrosio says. Those who suffer from sleep apnea usually don't notice the symptoms. It's their bedmates -- awakened by their ripping snores and gasping for air -- who bring the problem to their attention.

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