Connections Between Sleep Disorders and Pregnancy


Getting enough sleep helps to maintain an excellent quality of life. However, a lack of proper rest can lead to irritability, poor judgment, chronic fatigue, weight gain, decreased productivity, and diminished immune function.

Pregnancy brings a host of additional issues when it comes to sleep. Many pregnant women – even those who could sleep easily before – find themselves struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep.

Even just finding a comfortable position for sleeping while pregnant can be difficult. One national poll found that 78 percent of women experienced more disturbed sleep during pregnancy than at other times.

Let’s look at some of the issues that can affect your quality and quantity of sleep while you’re pregnant:

Do Pregnancy Hormones Affect Sleep?

A change in hormone levels, which comes with pregnancy, is one of the primary culprits for sleep disturbance and fatigue. The levels of progesterone rise rapidly during gestation, which can cause frequent urination, heartburn, and nasal congestion – which can all cause wakefulness. It also reduces the amount of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, or deep sleep, a woman can get during pregnancy.

The female sex hormone, estrogen, can also prevent women from getting enough sleep. Estrogen enlarges the blood vessels (a condition called vasodilation), which can lead to edema – a condition marked by swelling of the feet and legs. Vasodilation can also contribute to nasal congestion; doctors refer to this as pregnancy rhinitis.

Why It’s Difficult to Sleep While You’re Pregnant

Expectant parents know that they will get less sleep for a while once they have a crying baby in the house, but many aren’t prepared for the lack of sleep that occurs during pregnancy. Common complaints include:

  • Insomnia (especially during the first and third trimesters)
  • Nausea
  • Leg cramps
  • Heartburn
  • Vivid, disturbing dreams
  • Back pain
  • Breast tenderness
  • Abdominal discomfort

Sleep apnea can also start during pregnancy, or it may become worse as a pregnant woman gains weight. Because sleep apnea is correlated with high blood pressure and diabetes, a sleep study may be beneficial to diagnose this condition early on.

In the third trimester, many women suffer from restless legs syndrome (RLS). Increasing your intake of magnesium or vitamin D may help this condition.

Ways to Stay Asleep While Pregnant

There are many simple ways to stay as comfortable as possible while you’re pregnant, including the following:

  • Sleep with a full-body pillow for extra support
  • Sleep on your left side (which makes it easier to breathe and is safer for the baby)
  • Keep your head elevated to alleviate snoring
  • Use a humidifier if the air is dry
  • Drink plenty of water during the day, but stop drinking two hours before going to bed (to reduce trips to the bathroom)
  • Practice abdominal breathing, whereby your tummy moves in and out, rather than chest breathing
  • Avoid caffeine after noon

It’s important to consult your physician before starting any new regimen, as they’ll conduct the proper blood tests to ensure you’re getting what you need to stay healthy.

Sleep Doctors in the Chicago Area

If you’re having problems sleeping during pregnancy, it’s time to address it – don’t ignore it or dismiss it as “normal.” A visit to a sleep medicine specialist can be beneficial, and it can put you on the path to a better night’s sleep – and a greater quality of life – during this important, wonderful time.

A reputable sleep medicine doctor can offer excellent tips and tricks for maintaining normal sleep cycles during pregnancy and beyond. The board-certified physicians at Northwest Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine can help make getting a good night’s sleep one less worry.

For more information about our services, or to schedule an appointment, call us today at (815) 477-7350 or fill out our appointment request form. We look forward to helping you get a restful sleep every night.

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