If you can’t sleep during pregnancy, you’re not alone. About half of pregnant women report poor sleep, according to research.
Insomnia when pregnant is a common symptom and may be labeled as “normal” despite your ongoing struggles.
To learn what causes pregnancy insomnia, keep reading.
What Is Insomnia When Pregnant?
If sleep seems impossible since you’re pregnant, you might have insomnia.
Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that makes sleeping difficult. Someone with insomnia may have trouble:
- Falling asleep
- Staying asleep
- Waking up too early
- Falling back asleep after waking
People with insomnia may notice changes during their waking life too, such as:
- Feeling tired or not well-rested upon waking
- Feeling sleepy during the day
- New difficulty focusing or paying attention
- Increased accidents or mistakes (due to mental clarity/tiredness)
- Irritability or mental health changes like depression or anxiety
People may have insomnia for a day, a month, a year, or unfortunately, a lifetime.
Trouble sleeping in the short term is called acute insomnia. It may last weeks and is usually caused by situational stress.
Long-term problems are called chronic insomnia. It can last months and may be caused by chronic stress or a medical condition.
Insomnia for pregnant people is typically acute and caused by pregnancy changes. However, if it persists throughout or after pregnancy, it’s chronic insomnia.
Insomnia during pregnancy looks different for everyone. Some people have trouble getting to sleep because their baby belly feels uncomfortable. Others have difficulty staying and getting back to sleep because they wake up frequently to urinate. While some experience insomnia with pregnancy early on, others are only affected in the third trimester.
Insomnia with Pregnancy: Early Weeks
Many people don’t experience sleeping challenges until their baby grows. However, some get insomnia during pregnancy early on.
During the first trimester, you might notice you’re having a harder time falling asleep. You may wake up randomly and toss and turn before you return to sleep. Many people start napping. As you progress into the second trimester, you might notice these symptoms easing up.
Early pregnancy insomnia may be caused by stress. Anxieties about having a new baby can pose mental blocks that make it hard to relax and fall asleep. Early pregnancy hormones may also be posing a challenge.
Research shows that even though the total sleep time may increase in the first trimester, sleep quality changes.
Is early insomnia a symptom you’re pregnant? It could be! Although you likely won’t experience it as the first pregnancy symptom, fatigue can happen early on.
Insomnia Late Pregnancy
By the later stages of pregnancy, you may be lucky if you don’t have sleeping problems. According to one study, insomnia was “highly prevalent” in the last trimester.
Insomnia when pregnant during late pregnancy can be worse. As you reach the last weeks and months, some pregnancy symptoms may worsen, affecting your sleep.
Your growing belly may now be too big to sleep comfortably and the weight may put pressure on your bladder, making you wake up more frequently to urinate.
Other symptoms like leg cramps and fetal movement can make it difficult to sleep. Anxiety about the baby could also be top of mind and prevent sleep. During this time, the need to take naps may return as fatigue intensifies.
What Causes Insomnia With Pregnancy?
If you’re struggling with insomnia when pregnant, you might be wondering why. Changes in sleep can be caused by several types of changes during pregnancy:
Below are the common causes of insomnia when pregnant. Knowing the cause of your insomnia can help you find the most appropriate treatments.
During pregnancy, you might gain up to 20% more weight. With a big, bulging baby belly, getting comfortable enough to sleep can be difficult. Despite using pregnancy pillows and trying different positions, it may be hard to comfortably lay still.
With baby weight gain, your center of gravity shifts. This puts pressure on your back muscles and may give you frequent backaches, making it difficult to stay asleep.
More Frequent Urination
Insomnia with pregnancy may also be caused by frequent urination. If you’re getting up to pee more in the middle of the night, it can interrupt your sleep cycle, making it difficult to return to bed.
Research has shown that anxiety, stress, and tension can impact sleep duration and quality, especially during pregnancy. When worries are swirling in your head, it can be hard to relax enough to sleep.
Anxiety can also cause those weird pregnancy dreams that wake you up and make it hard to fall back asleep. One study concluded that pregnancy dreams are often just a continuation of daytime concerns about the maternal role.
To learn more about pregnancy dreams, read: Intense Dreams During Pregnancy: Is It Normal?
Hormonal changes take a lot of the blame for your insomnia when pregnant. They’re responsible for tender breasts that ache and prevent you from sleeping. Hormones can also cause hot flashes, making you feel too hot to sleep.
Surprisingly, hormones can also play a role in backaches. The changes can make the ligaments in your back loosen, possibly causing aches that keep you up at night.
You may not think slower digestion affects your sleep but it can for a few reasons.
Gastroesophageal reflux affects about 75% of pregnant women according to research. This annoying pregnancy symptom can keep you up at night and prevent you from getting back to sleep.
Gas and bloating problems can also cause discomfort, making it hard to sleep.
Restless Legs Syndrome
Restless legs syndrome happens when you have an irresistible urge to move your legs. It’s common during pregnancy and typically happens at night. If you think restless legs syndrome is causing your insomnia, talk to your doctor. Some research links the condition to iron deficiency, a mineral some pregnant women don’t receive enough of.
Physiological factors that happen during pregnancy also affect how tired you feel. For example, cardio-respiratory changes like blood pressure and pulse rate can contribute to fatigue and exhaustion throughout the day, making the effects of insomnia worse.
Managing Insomnia With Pregnancy
Insomnia is an annoyance that affects day-to-day life, but there’s another reason to manage the condition: It may affect your pregnancy health.
New research suggests that a lack of sleep can make you higher at risk for complications like preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and longer labor. For example, women who get less than 6 hours of sleep a day have higher rates of cesarean section. Some research suggests that gestational insomnia may be linked to postpartum depression.
There’s several things you can do to manage insomnia with pregnancy. You may need to try a few suggestions to see which works the best. Here’s a few ideas:
- Have a set sleep and wake up time
- Use your bedroom only for sleep (not working, hobbies, etc.)
- Have a relaxing before-bed ritual (warm bath, drinking tea, reading a book, etc.)
- Use body pillows
- Try therapy to control stress, like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Only consume caffeine in the morning
- Exercise during the day and not close to bedtime
- Turn off lights and screens at least an hour before bed
- Lower the thermostat for a cool bedroom
- Avoid consuming a lot of liquids before bed
- Avoid eating big meals before bed
NOTE: Next month, I’ll include a post focusing on the many options for pregnancy insomnia. When that post is published, you can link it here using the phrase below:
“There’s many ways to cope with insomnia when pregnant. Read This Massive List For Combatting Pregnancy Insomnia.
Talk to your doctor before trying any over-the-counter sleep medications or supplements. Some sleep aids may not be safe to take during pregnancy.
Seeing a Doctor for Insomnia with Pregnancy
If you’re having difficulty sleeping, mention it to your doctor during your next prenatal appointment. They’ll likely ask about your sleeping patterns and symptoms to diagnose you with insomnia during pregnancy.
Most commonly, your doctor may suggest lifestyle changes since behavioral changes are best during pregnancy.
Summary: Insomnia for Pregnant People
Insomnia when pregnant can negatively affect your day-to-day life. Even more annoying is that some will tell you it’s a “normal” symptom, ignoring your struggle. Understanding the causes of insomnia when pregnant can be helpful for finding solutions. Scroll through the possible causes on this list and see if any are relevant to you. If you can’t manage your insomnia during pregnancy yourself, talk to your doctor for recommendations.
P.S. Are you worried if your baby is okay between check-ups? Pocket fetal dopplers allow you to hear your baby’s heartbeat inside the womb and can provide another check of reassurance alongside other pregnancy symptoms. The device is easy-to-use and can create bonding for the whole family.