Pregnancy Symptoms and Solutions

Insomnia During Pregnancy

Fatigued, fidgety, and frustrated? Here's what causes difficulty sleeping during pregnancy, and what you can do about it.

pregnant woman

How unfair — that when you need it the most, you can't get it. You keep on telling yourself it's the last opportunity for a long, long time (at least until your baby's sleeping through the night). But you still can't get any. And no, it’s not sex! It’s insomnia, or the inability to fall or stay sleep – which hits especially hard in the third trimester of pregnancy, when it’s estimated to effect more than 75 percent of expectant moms.

What causes it?

A complicated combination of all the hormonal changes, frequent trips to the bathroom, heartburn during pregnancy that just won’t quit, leg cramps, the fact that you can't get comfortable when you're in bed with a watermelon where your tummy used to be, and pre-birth anxiety can all cause difficulty sleeping around week 33 of pregnancy.

What you need to know

You're probably getting more shut-eye than you think, but between any anxieties you might be feeling about the baby's birth, the fact that your sleep is interrupted by your need to pee, and the fact that you're tossing and turning all night (it's not easy to sleep with a watermelon), it's no wonder you're feeling as if you're not sleeping during pregnancy at all. If there's any bright side here, it's the assurance that you're getting some solid practice for what lies ahead.

What you can do

  • Don't worry. Insomnia can't hurt you or your baby. Plus, sometimes just letting go of the worry is all it takes to help you sleep.
  • Clear the emotional decks. If you have persistent worries that are keeping you up nights, talk about them with a friend or your partner and try to sort them out during daylight hours — or try writing them down.
  • Take your time at dinner. Don't wolf your food down, and keep the pace leisurely so that heartburn doesn't keep you tossing and turning. And try not to eat dinner too close to bedtime (a full tummy can make you too energized — or too uncomfortable to sleep).
  • Avoid caffeine and chocolate. Especially in the late afternoon or evening, since they can keep you awake. A light snack will tide you over until breakfast, but choose it wisely — a whole-grain muffin and a glass of milk (warm it if you like; it could help you get to sleep), or a cheese stick and a few dried apricots.
  • Drink earlier. Fill your daily requirement of fluids during the early evening to cut down on bathroom runs after you've hit the hay.
  • Work it out. Get some daily pregnancy exercise, but not too close to bedtime (a post-workout buzz can keep you awake).
  • Make a bedtime routine. Try to go to sleep and get up at the same time every day. Every night, read a book, listen to soothing music, or watch TV until drowsiness sets in.
  • Soothe yourself. Try lulling yourself into a sleepy state with a warm bath and a cup of warm milk, or solicit your partner for a relaxing prenatal massage.
  • Get comfy. If you're uncomfortable, you won't sleep. Is your bedroom too cold? Is it a sauna? Check the temperature, and make sure you're using a mattress and pillows that provide solid support without feeling like bricks. A body pillow can help you get comfortable, and help you get the sleep you need. Open a window to keep the room from getting stuffy — you're sure to heat up during the night.
  • Save your bed for sex and sleep. If you're doing daytime activities in bed, you might be unwittingly associating that part of your home with being awake — and with stress. Pay your bills in the kitchen, and save the bed for its more traditional purposes — lovemaking (if you and your partner are still interested) and sleeping.
  • Don't use sleep aids. Don’t rely on over-the-counter, prescription or herbal pills or alcohol to help you sleep. These are dangerous during pregnancy.
  • If you're not sleeping, get up. If you’re not asleep after 20 to 30 minutes of trying, conquer a small task that needs to be done (think bill paying for 15 minutes, not scrubbing the toilet) — and then try to go to sleep again. You may just be tired enough by that point to get the rest you need.
  • Don't count the hours. Though most people do best on eight hours of sleep, some do fine on less and some need more. So instead of aiming for a particular number of sleep hours — ask yourself how you're feeling on the hours you're sleeping during pregnancy. If you're not chronically tired, you may be getting enough rest.

Updated 6/5/14

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