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Pregnancy Insomnia

The link between pregnancy and insomnia--and how to break it

Many women experience difficulties falling or staying asleep, otherwise known as insomnia, at some point during their pregnancy. The exact link between insomnia and pregnancy is unclear, but hormonal disturbances, physical discomfort, and anxiety about pregnancy, birth, and impending parenthood can all play a part.

While there is no risk to the fetus or the mother as a result of pregnancy insomnia, the condition is certainly unpleasant. Fortunately, there are several things women can do to combat sleep disturbances.

Preventing or Treating Insomnia during Pregnancy

Insomnia in early pregnancy (the first and second trimesters) is likely to be caused by hormonal imbalances and physical discomfort as the baby grows and shifts position.

In later pregnancy (typically the last trimester), difficulties breathing (caused by increasing pressure on the diaphragm), heartburn, excitement or nervousness about giving birth, and an inability to find a comfortable sleeping position often impede women's ability to get a good night's sleep. Sleep disturbances at this stage may also result from nutritional deficiencies, since more of the nutrients from food are being directed toward the fetus.

To help reduce the occurrence of insomnia during pregnancy:

  • Set a bedtime routine. Try to go to bed at the same time each night, and do something relaxing for 15 or 20 minutes beforehand, such as taking a warm bath, reading a book, practicing meditation, or listening to music.
  • Make sure your bedroom is comfortable. You can't help the discomfort caused by your pregnancy, but you can make sure the room is warm enough (or cold enough) and dark enough to promote sleep.
  • Don't eat right before bed. A small snack is okay, but try to have it at least a half-hour before bed, and don't eat spicy foods that may provoke heartburn. Also, eat slowly -- devouring meals or snacks may cause abdominal discomfort, as well as acid reflux.
  • Elevate your torso. Sleeping with your upper body slightly inclined may help improve breathing, allowing longer, deeper sleep.
  • Exercise. Physical activity can help promote restful sleep and is part of a healthy lifestyle. Check with your doctor for approved exercises and guidelines, but up to half an hour of low-impact, non-strenuous exercise per day is generally okay.

Whatever you do, don't treat insomnia in pregnancy with over-the-counter sleep remedies, prescription drugs, narcotics, or alcohol. These can be harmful to a developing fetus and to you.

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