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Insomnia During Pregnancy

Remember when you used to shut off your bedroom light and drift right to sleep? Now that you're pregnant, getting eight to nine straight hours of blissful slumber may seem like a distant dream.

If it's not the nagging pressure on your bladder that's keeping you awake, then it's the gnawing backache or leg cramps, or sheer inability to get comfortable in a bed that once gently cradled you to sleep.

What makes pregnancy insomnia even harder to handle? It's knowing that now is the time when you need sleep the most. Once your baby arrives, a good night's rest will be even harder to come by.

Why Sleep Troubles Now?

Why are you having so much trouble sleeping during your pregnancy? You can put the blame on:

  • Backaches. As your center of gravity shifts forward, your back muscles overcompensate and become sore as a result. Plus, your ligaments loosen thanks to pregnancy hormones, making you more likely to hurt your back.
  • Gas. Pregnancy hormones slow digestion, making you feel bloated and gassy. 
  • Heartburn. Those same hormones also relax muscles in your digestive tract, making it easier for stomach acids to burn their way back up your esophagus.
  • Leg cramps and restless legs. Changes in your circulation and pressure from the baby on nerves and muscles can make your legs cramp up. You may also get a creepy-crawly feeling in your legs known as restless legs syndrome.
  • Shortness of breath. Your growing uterus is also putting pressure on your diaphragm, which sits just under your lungs. This pressure can make it hard to catch your breath.
  • Snoring. Your nasal passages may swell up during pregnancy, causing snoring. Extra pressure from your growing girth can also make snoring worse. Changes like these may briefly block breathing over and over during sleep (sleep apnea). 
  • Anxiety. You've got a lot to think about right now with baby on the way. The many thoughts and worries spinning through your head can keep you from sleep. 

 

Don't Ignore Sleep Problems

It's important to address pregnancy insomnia. Your body needs rest right now to care for your growing baby. Plus, a lack of sleep could make you more likely to have a longer labor and a C-section delivery. It may also make you more vulnerable to depression after you deliver. Untreated sleep apnea may also lead to pregnancy complications, such as high blood pressure, and sleep problems for your baby after birth.

How to Sleep Better

Treating insomnia is a little more challenging when you're pregnant, but it's not impossible. Many sleep medicines aren't considered safe for pregnant women and their babies.

Yet lifestyle changes -- including adjustments to your sleep routine -- can safely improve your sleep. Stick to a set (early) bedtime, and start with these steps. 

  • Limit coffee. Not only will the caffeine keep you awake, but coffee also makes it harder for your body to absorb the iron you and your baby need.
  • Drink plenty of water during the day, but stop drinking a couple of hours before bedtime so you don't have to wake up to go to the bathroom. 
  • Get out and walk for about 30 minutes a day. Exercise helps you sleep better. Just don't exercise within four hours of bedtime because it can keep you awake.
  • Take a warm bath, or ask your partner for a massage to relax you.
  • Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and cool at night to help you sleep.

If you've tried these tips and you still can't get to sleep or stay asleep, see your doctor. You may need treatment for a sleep problem such as snoring or restless legs syndrome.

  • If you have restless legs syndrome, get plenty of folic acid and iron from your prenatal vitamins and from foods such as whole-grain breads and cereals.
  • If you're overweight or snore,your doctor may monitor you for sleep apnea. You may need a special mask that delivers steady air pressure to keep your airway open. This helps you breathe more easily at night.
  • If you have heartburn, try over-the-counter antacids. If possible, prop up the head of your bed a few inches, so acid goes back down, instead of up into your esophagus. Don't do the propping with pillows. That can make matters worse. Also, avoid spicy or acidic foods that could trigger your heartburn, and don't eat a big meal right before bed. If you're hungry, eat a light snack, such as whole-wheat crackers and cheese or an apple.  
  • If you have anxiety, talk to your doctor, who may refer you to extra sources of support. 

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Maxine Dorin, MD on May 24, 2012

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