Everything you need to know about sleep in pregnancy

Having a baby takes an awful lot of energy, but what if you just can’t seem to rest? By Imy Brighty-Potts.

Imy Brighty-Potts
Tuesday 11 July 2023 08:30 BST
Sleeping when pregnant may pose a challenge (Alamy/PA)
Sleeping when pregnant may pose a challenge (Alamy/PA)

Sleep matters at the best of times, but when you’re growing new life, getting a good night’s rest is incredibly important.

But, pregnancy and sleep do not often go hand in hand.

“Many people experience changes in their sleep patterns and quality during pregnancy,” says Dr Chun Tang, medical director and GP at Pall Mall Medical in Manchester.

“Hormonal fluctuations, physical discomfort, frequent urination and anxiety can contribute to sleep disturbances. Some people may find it more challenging to fall asleep or stay asleep throughout the night, leading to altered sleep-wake cycles and a disrupted circadian rhythm.”

Your circadian rhythm will change

“During pregnancy, the circadian rhythm, which is the internal biological clock that regulates various physiological processes, undergoes certain changes,” says Tang.

“Things like hormonal changes, sleep disruptions, changes in activity and energy levels and increased sensitivity to light, can affect your circadian rhythm.”

Warmer body temperature

“During pregnancy, basal body temperature (the body’s resting temperature) tends to be slightly elevated, due to hormonal changes, particularly increased levels of progesterone,” he explains.

“This can result in a feeling of warmth or increased body heat. Higher basal body temperature can make it uncomfortable to sleep, especially in combination with external factors, like warm weather or a warm sleeping environment.”

Some people may also experience night sweats, particularly during the later stages of pregnancy, Tang notes. “Night sweats are episodes of excessive sweating during sleep, which can lead to discomfort, disrupted sleep, and difficulty falling back asleep. Hormonal fluctuations and increased blood flow during pregnancy can contribute to these.

“Hormonal changes during pregnancy can also trigger hot flushes, sudden feelings of intense heat and sweating that typically affect the face, neck, and chest. Hot flushes can occur during the day or at night, affecting sleep. But if you have a persistent fever or feel unwell, you should consult your GP,” he says.

Vivid dreams

“There have been numerous reports of people having more vivid dreams during pregnancy. Hormones, increased emotional sensitivity, and changes in sleep patterns can contribute to the intensity and frequency of dreams,” says Tang.

“Pregnancy often brings about a range of emotional and psychological changes. Heightened emotions, anxiety, excitement, and anticipation can influence the content and intensity of dreams. Dreams may reflect the concerns, hopes, and fears associated with pregnancy and impending motherhood.

“If vivid dreams are causing distress or affecting sleep quality, practising good sleep hygiene and relaxation techniques before bed may help promote better sleep. Maintaining a comfortable sleep environment, establishing a regular sleep routine, managing stress levels, and seeking support from healthcare providers can also be beneficial,” he adds.

Physical discomfort

Getting bigger may not be comfortable, particularly in the later months.

As the pregnancy progresses, physical discomfort and increased fatigue may affect activity levels. Some people may experience increased daytime sleepiness, while others may find it harder to engage in physical activities, due to the changes associated with pregnancy.

“The third trimester can present more pronounced sleep challenges, due to the changes and preparation for labour. Some common sleep difficulties during this trimester include discomfort and difficulty finding a comfortable position, frequent urination, heartburn or reflux, and restless leg syndrome,” Tang says.

What can help?

Yoga can be beneficial, suggests Tang: “Prenatal yoga is specifically designed to support the physical and emotional wellbeing of expectant mothers throughout their pregnancy. It involves gentle stretching, deep breathing exercises, mindfulness practices and relaxation techniques tailored to the needs and safety considerations of pregnancy.

“These practices can be valuable for managing anxiety, promoting better sleep, and fostering a sense of calm and balance during pregnancy.”

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