Between cravings, toilet trips and trying to get comfortable, having a restful night’s kip isn’t always easy in pregnancy.
And if you’re going through this, you’re not alone – a poll by the National Sleep Foundation shows that 78 per cent of mums-to-be have trouble sleeping.
Thankfully, a few tweaks can make sleepless nights a thing of the past (well, until your baby arrives anyway!).
Best sleeping position in pregnancy
The safest position to go to sleep when pregnant is on your side, either left or right. You can try supporting your bump with pillows and putting a pillow between your knees to make it more comfortable.
Experts recommend avoiding sleeping on your back as research suggests that, after 28 weeks, falling asleep on your back can double the risk of stillbirth. This may be to do with the flow of blood and oxygen to the baby.
The NHS advises that if you do wake up on your back, don't worry, just turn over and go to sleep again on your side. Sleeping on your left side, particularly in your third trimester will allow blood to flow easier to your kidneys and uterus.
10 tips for sleeping safely and soundly in pregnancy
As well as choosing a good pregnancy pillow, there are other things you can do to try to ensure a good night's sleep during your pregnancy:
Eat smart – Avoid rich, spicy or oily, fried foods to minimise heartburn.
Go outside – One of the best ways to improve the quality of your sleep is to get outdoors in the daytime and into the sunlight. At least 30 minutes’ exposure, even if the sun isn’t at its strongest, is the best way to reinforce your sleep-wake cycle – the natural internal clock that makes sure you’re awake by day and asleep at night.
Keep your blood sugar stable – A key factor that affects sleep during pregnancy is an imbalance in blood-sugar levels. ‘In the first trimester, most women crave carbohydrates and go off protein, but eating carbs without protein speeds up your digestion and causes highs in your blood sugar that can lead to night-time sugar lows and the need to eat,’ says nutritionist Yvonne Bishop-Weston. So, rather than three big meals a day, eat every three to four hours. Go for meals that are slow to digest, such as whole grain carbs with proteins and vegetables.
Keep cool – Many mums-to-be find that their body temperature increases, due to the extra blood flow and raised metabolism when you’re pregnant. Being too hot can make it harder to get to sleep, so you need to make allowances for this now. ‘Although an excessively warm bedroom disturbs sleep, there is 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.’ Open the windows and maybe even invest in a lighter Tog duvet. Just warn your partner he may have to invest in warmer nightwear.
Reflexology – Nothing eases the occasional pregnancy 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. Reflexology is fine in pregnancy – as long as you know the areas to avoid that relate to the uterus. Invest in some professional sessions for the ultimate ‘I need it for my health’ pamper.
Bath – Having a warm bath takes the blood away from your brain to the surface of your skin, making you feel relaxed and drowsy. ‘On top of that, your body temperature drops as soon as you get out of the warm water, initiating sleepiness,’ says Sammy. ‘But don’t make the water overly hot – it will raise your temperature too much, leaving you feeling uncomfortable way past your bedtime.’ Prefer showers? You’ll get exactly the same sleep-inducing effect from a blast of warm water.
Resist the iPad – Facebook really will still be there in the morning. As will iPlayer. 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.’
Boost your sleep-happy hormone – It’s what got you here in the first place and orgasms release oxytocin, which makes you sleepy. But, if you’re feeling too huge or are simply too knackered for pregnancy sex, don’t worry. ‘Cuddling on the sofa or in bed releases the same sleep-happy hormone,’ says David R Hamilton, author of Why Kindness Is Good For You. ‘Any form of warm partner contact will help send you to sleep, whatever stage of pregnancy you’re in.’
Visualise – 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, says 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.