A rumbling tummy, frequent toilet trips and trying to get comfy with a bump can all steal your sleep and leave you fatigued when you’re expecting. Ideally, you should be getting six to eight hours a night, so try these easy ways to boost your Zzzs
Exercise gentle in the day
Many mums-to-be find their sleep disrupted by worrying about childbirth and how they’ll cope with a baby. ‘This might make it difficult for you to get to sleep or return to it after waking up in the night,’ says Joseph Iskaros, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at The Portland Hospital, London. Such mental life-sorting also fuels vivid dreams, which can wake you. Light exercise, such as walking or yoga, will help you deal with this anxiety. It also combats daytime sleepiness brought on by high progesterone levels, leaving you better able to sleep at night.
Getting fresh air outside will also help, so try to catch some rays in your lunch break. At least 30 minutes’ exposure, even when the sun isn’t at its strongest, is the best way to reinforce your natural sleep–wake cycle.
Keep your blood sugar stable
Who doesn’t crave carbs when first pregnant? ‘But eating carbs without protein causes highs in your blood sugar that can lead to night-time sugar lows and hunger,’ says nutritionist Yvonne Bishop-Weston. ‘In early pregnancy, eat every four hours or, if you’re experiencing morning sickness or are in late pregnancy, every three hours.’
Opt for meals that are slow to digest, such as wholegrain carbs with proteins and vegetables.
Your growing uterus not only compresses your bladder, but also squeezes your stomach. The result for some is heartburn, which brings a burning sensation in your chest as stomach acid is pushed upwards. ‘A glass of cold milk before you go to bed will reduce acidity,’ says Joseph. Use extra pillows to raise your shoulders and head, so gravity keeps your stomach contents where they should be. ‘Your stomach also takes longer to empty, thanks to a rise in progesterone which causes the muscles in your body to relax,’ adds Joseph. ‘To counteract this sluggishness, adjust your eating habits and eat lots of smaller portions rather than three big meals a day.’
Stay pregnancy cool
Many mums-to-be find their body temperature increases due to extra pregnancy blood flow and a raised metabolism. Being too hot when you get in bed can make it hard to drop off, so make allowances for this.
‘Although we know an excessively warm bedroom disturbs sleep, there’s no evidence that a very cold room has a similar effect,’ says sleep expert Dr Chris Idzikowski. ‘Keep the temperature at no more than 16°C.’
Being too hot when you get in bed can make it hard to drop off, so make allowances for this
Nothing eases the occasional ache like a foot rub and now you have the perfect excuse to get one – a study by the University of Ulster found reflexology boosts your quality of sleep.
‘Ask your partner to massage your feet, including the big toes and insteps,’ says Sally Earlam, maternity specialist at the Association of Reflexologists. ‘The big toe corresponds to your brain, and the instep to your spine, so you’ll be calming the nervous system and relaxing your mind. Have the massage an hour before bed and sit in a position you’re comfortable in.’
Be careful with reflexology in pregnancy, though – don’t do it in the first trimester, and always avoid the ankles and ankle bones.
Have a bath
A warm bath takes the blood away from your brain to the surface of your skin, making you feel relaxed. ‘On top of that, your body temperature drops as you get out, initiating sleepiness,’ says Sammy Margo, author of The Good Sleep Guide.
‘Just don’t make the water overly hot – it will raise your temperature too much, leaving you feeling uncomfortable.’ Prefer showers? You’ll get exactly the same sleep-inducing effect from a blast of warm water.
Resist the iPad
Avoid checking for Facebook comments about your latest scan picture or reading buggy reviews online right before bed. Looking at a laptop, tablet, smartphone or TV will keep your mind stimulated and make it harder to drop off, according to a study by Osaka University.
‘Turn them all off an hour before bed,’ says Sammy. ‘Your body and brain will thank you for it.’
It’s what got you here in the first place and orgasms release oxytocin, which makes you drowsy. But, if you’re feeling huge or are too tired for bedroom gymnastics, don’t worry.
‘Cuddling releases the same hormone, and any form of warm partner contact will help send you off, whatever stage of pregnancy you’re in,’ says Dr David R Hamilton, author of Why Kindness Is Good For You.
Visualise yourself calm
Researchers at Oxford University found that people who visualised relaxing scenes, such as mountains or the sea, fell asleep 20 minutes faster than on nights where they counted sheep.
No wonder, confirms Sammy – numbers and counting make us think of to-do lists, which is the last thing you need before bed. ‘A calming scene is much better, because it has no negative associations and takes us away from the here-and-now,’ she says.
Eat a banana
If you have an urge to move your legs, making it impossible to lie still, you could have pregnancy-related restless legs syndrome (RLS). It affects 26% of pregnant women according to the National Sleep Foundation. Symptoms include cramping or burning sensations in your legs. The cause is still unknown.
‘Some experts believe the condition is linked to a potassium deficiency, so having a banana, which is rich in this mineral, may help,’ says Joseph. ‘Do simple stretching to help relieve the spasms, and ask your partner to massage your legs before you go to bed.’
Put your feet up
Needing the loo in the middle of the night disrupts sleep. ‘Later on in pregnancy, your uterus gets bigger and compresses your bladder by up to 50%, so it holds less urine,’ explains Joseph. ‘Added to this, fluid can accumulate in your feet, ankles and legs if you stand for a long time towards the end of your pregnancy. When you lie down at night, this fluid flows back into your circulation and is eventually drained by your kidneys, filling your bladder with urine. In the evening, try putting your feet up, to start this process earlier. By bedtime, you’ll have been to the toilet a few times.’
Buy a pregnancy pillow
‘As your body gets heavier, you can start getting night-time pain in your joints and pubic-bone area,’ says Joseph. ‘Try placing a pillow or support between your legs to ease the pressure on your hips and support your lower back.’ From 22 weeks, lie on your left side, as this helps the flow of blood and nutrients to your placenta. >> View the best pregnancy pillows