Image of Professor Colin Espie
by Professor Colin Espie

The challenge of sleeping for two (or more!)

Expectant mothers are often advised to get plenty of rest, but for many women, that's easier said than done. As many as 97% of pregnant women say that their sleep is disturbed, especially in the third trimester.

A recent poll in the US suggested suggested that the most common reasons for disturbed sleep in the third trimester were frequent bathroom trips, or 'nocturia' (92%), aches and pains (66%), leg cramps (54%), heartburn (51%) and disturbing dreams (38%).

This guide suggests some practical steps for tackling sleep problems, answers common questions and explains some of the science of sleeping during your pregnancy. While you can't prevent the biological changes that can disrupt your sleep, at least you can understand what is happening, and why. Cognitive and behavioral strategies can help you to prioritize sleep, to reduce worry and increase your chances of getting back to sleep.

Why is sleep so difficult in pregnancy?

Physical challenges

Physical changes and changing hormone levels can play havoc for even the most accomplished sleeper, and can increase the risk of sleep disorders. Progesterone and oxytocin are pregnancy hormones which may cause fragmented sleep. In the later stages of pregnancy, carrying a budding footballer can make it seem impossible to get comfortable!

Emotional ups and downs

Pregnancy can be hugely exciting, but it can also be nerve-racking and stressful. Lack of sleep can also be a cause of low mood. If you do start to feel persistently low or anxious, talk to a midwife or doctor for advice.

Needs of a growing family

A new pregnancy can feel like even more of a strain when you're already caring for a young family. Juggling the needs of infants and toddlers with your own sleep is a difficult balancing act.

Many sleep aids are off the menu

Many sleep aids, including over the counter medication, are not recommended for pregnant mothers. If you were taking sleep medication before your pregnancy, talk to your doctor to check whether you can continue.

Next: Preparing for good sleep: what to do during the day

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