Why is sleep so important?
It sounds a little condescending but it’s oh so true - sleep is going to be your best friend over the coming months. When you’re pregnant there are plenty of things that make good quality sleep harder to come by. Cramps, not finding a suitable sleep position, needing to constantly pee or even something as simple as finding the right pillow plague us all during pregnancy when we’re trying to nod off.
So why is sleep so important in pregnancy? Put simply - sleep helps improve your immune system and brain function. In pregnancy it also helps regulate growth hormone levels.
From a personal perspective, I thought I had the jump on sleep when I was first pregnant. I’ve worked around sleep for most of my working life - at bed manufacturer Sleepyhead - and now at Growbright - so it’s hugely important to me.
However, pregnancy throws a curveball at you and nothing can prepare you for what’s to come. A National Sleep Foundation study found nearly 80% of pregnant women experience some sort of sleep disturbance. If you’re the other 20% - count yourself lucky. For the rest of us - here’s a few tips and tricks our team has put together to help you get better sleep during pregnancy - from your first trimester right through to giving birth. Then after that, getting good sleep with a little one is an entirely different matter that we’ve saved for a subsequent Mummy Manual.
A bit of sleeping on the side
If you’re not already, join the masses and sleep on your side. It’s the most common sleep position and in pregnancy - side sleeping is encouraged - especially from 28 weeks. And even better - try and sleep on your left side. Here’s why! An Auckland University led study shows that women who slept on their back in the final weeks of their pregnancy were more likely to deliver smaller babies. “Babies who are small for their gestational age (SGA), defined as having a birthweight in the lowest 10 percent of babies born, are more likely to be stillborn or have health problems before and following birth”. The research shows that side sleeping is better for mum and growing baby. The university research found that if a pregnant women who commonly might wake up on her back can easily turn and just settle into a position on her side that’s more comfortable. But continuing to sleep on your back, especially in the later months of pregnancy presses on major blood vessels, which can reduce blood flow to the womb, and hence oxygen supply to your baby. So why is it recommended to sleep on your left side? It’s thought sleeping on the left side increases the amount of blood and nutrients that reach the placenta and your baby. But either side is good.
Tip: Learn to become a side-sleeper while you’re pregnant. If you wake up on your back or tummy - try and settle back onto a side that feels comfortable.
Getting comfortable in bed
There’s nothing easy about just taking a load off and lying down - especially as you grow. Lying down sometimes comes with pains and cramps but thankfully someone came up with a genius solution to tailor make pregnancy pillows. At Growbright, we consulted women’s health physio expert Becs Dodson to help us understand the need for extra support that pillows can provide. But more importantly she’s guided us on how and where you can use specially designed pillows to help get you more comfortable in pregnancy.
For your head, it’s the same as always - find a pillow that fits snuggly and supports your neck to help keep your spine in alignment. As we move down the body, consider a smaller pillow under your belly as it grows. This will help relieve any strain or tension from your back and pelvis. Let’s not forget the knees and ankles. They also need a bit of extra support to help keep your pelvis stacked and minimise any strain on your pelvic ligaments. So pop in a supportive cushion around the knees that will help. Finally, some pregnant women just prefer a one pillow solution to help ease any discomfort while sleeping - so go for a full body pillow that can be cradled.
What you’re actually sleeping on becomes important during pregnancy too. What kind of mattress do you have? If you’ve slept on a firm feel mattress until now - a bed with fewer comfort layers than a medium or plush might cause you some discomfort during your pregnancy.
Rather than splash out on a new bed, we recommend you buy a mattress topper which simply fits over the top of your existing mattress for the duration of your pregnancy. It will give you that extra comfort that will help relieve pressure in areas around your hips and knees while you grow.
Tip: Learn to love pillows for their support around your neck, hips and knees. If you find your mattress is too firm or you simply want extra comfort in bed - buy a mattress topper to help you during pregnancy.
Why am I so tired?
Especially early on in your pregnancy, you’re going to feel tired and fatigued. This is because your body is now having to work a lot harder to produce more blood which carries vital nutrients to your growing baby. And what’s making you feel tired and sleepy are hormones such as increased progesterone. In the first trimester especially, this fatigue may also feel like an illness - commonly known as morning sickness. In my experience, I felt slightly more human in the second trimester - and this is common for many expecting mums. But then in the third trimester, overwhelming tiredness returns as you are moving extra weight.
Certainly, telling you tiredness is normal isn’t going to help but what I do recommend is listening to your own body. I didn’t sleep well, especially in the first trimester so I found the answer lay in naps. Take them when you can - recommended nap times are ideally 20 minutes to stop you entering a deeper sleep phase.
Also, I found avoiding late nights helped during pregnancy. In his popular science book Why We Sleep, Matthew Walker talks about the importance of maintaining regular sleep habits like going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time every day. This is true in pregnancy too.
Tip: Tiredness is normal. Take a nap during the day if your body needs it & try to go to bed and wake up at the same time, every day during the week and over weekends.
Good sleep habits
Everyone develops their own unique habits or routines that help with sleep during pregnancy. For me, it was herbal pregnancy support pills. I took these to increase my magnesium, which in turn helped me with sleep while I was pregnant with both my children. Nausea can reduce the levels of magnesium in your body while you are pregnant, so I took the supplement. And while there is no absolute proven research that magnesium improves your sleep, (I believe it has helped mine) it definitely helps relax your muscles.
Using devices right before bedtime isn’t considered to be a good idea for anyone getting to sleep. It’s tempting to grab your phone beside your bed and scroll before you try and snooze but try and avoid it during your pregnancy to slow your mind down as your body prepares to sleep.
A soothing shower or a bath before bedtime might also help you drift off and a cup of herbal tea is popular as a nighttime ritual to get to sleep for pregnant mums. Just check the label to make sure it’s safe for pregnancy and you may also find that it might not help with those frequent trips to the loo at night. And those toilet visits bring their own set of unique problems. Our health women’s expert Becs Dodson recommends you take a little extra care when getting out of bed during the night. Why? Your changing body means that simply springing out of bed to get to the toilet may not be the safest way while you are pregnant. Rather, use the technique of rolling off the edge - especially in the later stages of pregnancy - to reduce diastasis recti – or tummy separation – that occurs when your abdominal muscles separate too far.
Tip: Develop your own unique habits or bedtime rituals to aid sleep. Reduce the use of blue-light emitting devices right before you go to bed. Be careful getting out of bed at night, particularly in the third trimester by rolling off the side of the bed to avoid tummy separation.
Disclaimer: The information in this manual is designed to provide help information on the subjects discussed. This manual is not meant to be used, nor should it be used, to diagnose or treat any problem arising from your pregnancy or treat any medical condition. For diagnosis, help or treatment during your pregnancy you should consult your own healthcare provider or a physician. The publisher and author are not responsible for any specific health or allergy needs that may require medical supervision and are not liable for any damages or negative consequences from any information, action, application or preparation to any person reading the following manual. References are provided for informational purposes only and do not constitute endorsement of any websites or other sources. Readers should be aware that the websites and links listed in this manual may change.