10 Ways to Actually Get Some Sleep When You’re Pregnant
“Sleep disturbances during pregnancy are extremely common,” Abbe Wain, M.D., an assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive science at the Mount Sinai Health System in New York, tells SELF.
It makes sense. Your body’s going through some big changes—all of which can screw with your ability to sleep through the night. With a baby pushing on your bladder, you might get up to pee more. Thanks to the relaxation of the muscle between your stomach and your esophagus, you may deal with raging heartburn. The idea of being a parent (or adding another child to the mix) could make you anxious, which has a particularly agonizing way of keeping people awake. And the back pain, wow. It’s common during pregnancy, too, as your back strains to support your growing uterus.
As you can see, pregnancy can be a recipe for long nights spent tossing and turning. But there are ways to finally fall (and stay) asleep. Here’s what worked for 10 women, plus what ob/gyns have to say about these sleep remedies.
1. Eat a small dinner at least two hours before bed.
Speaking as someone who’s currently pregnant, I’ve had some scary middle-of-the-night moments where I’ve woken up choking from acid reflux. But eventually I realized that eating a small meal earlier in the evening could help me avoid acid reflux and resulting issues like heartburn during the night.
“When you’re lying down, acid can build up and get up into your throat and chest, causing discomfort,” Allyson Boester, M.D., an ob/gyn and assistant professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, tells SELF. This can become even worse during pregnancy because of physiological changes like the relaxation of the muscle between your esophagus and stomach, which more easily allows that acid to reverse course. “Small meals and [allowing some time for digestion] before lying flat on your back can prevent acid reflux symptoms that are often worse at night when you lie down,” Dr. Boester explains.
If acid reflux is really bothering you, Celeste S. Royce, M.D., an assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive biology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, suggests talking to your doctor. They may recommend antacid medications (which are generally viewed as safe to take while pregnant). Also, if your heartburn comes out of nowhere or is suddenly way worse, definitely discuss that with your doctor ASAP. It’s possible to mistake symptoms of preeclampsia (high blood pressure in pregnancy after 20 weeks) for heartburn, Dr. Royce explains.
2. Consider using a pregnancy pillow.
“As my bump has grown, the The Leacho Snoogle Pregnancy Pillow has helped me get into a comfortable and safe side-sleeping position. I used to sleep mostly on my back,” Maggie G., 29, tells SELF. “I love how the pillow provides extra cushion around my knees, ankles, and belly while I sleep,” Maggie adds.
Sleeping on your side during pregnancy can be a transition if that’s not typically your go-to position. Though there’s some debate around whether or not back sleeping during pregnancy can contribute to the risk of stillbirth, medical organizations such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend sleeping on your side when pregnant for various reasons. Pregnancy pillows can definitely help you get into a comfortable side-sleeping position, but you don’t necessarily have to buy something special. You can experiment with placing a pillow or two that you already have in between your knees and see how that helps.
Using pillows this way may help with back pain, Dr. Wain says. It can also just feel better physically overall. “When there’s a lot of pressure in the [pelvic] area as the belly gets bigger, having your legs rested together sometimes isn’t as comfortable as having something between them,” Dr. Boester explains. “I always encourage people to be creative and find a place that’s comfortable for them, and pillows can definitely help.”
3. Read a physical book.
“My biggest change during pregnancy has been to incorporate [reading] before sleep,” Abby G., 33, tells SELF. “No phones or screens! I find that I have had much more trouble falling asleep while pregnant, so this has helped turn off my mind.”
Turns out Abby’s onto something. “Avoiding electronic screens … for at least 30 minutes before bed is important for a good night’s sleep any time, and especially when you’re sleeping for two,” Dr. Royce says. Light from electronic screens can impact your circadian rhythm, which governs your sleep and wake cycles, making it tough for you to doze off. “Reading a real book is relaxing and soothing, and it’s great practice for all those nights to come when a book at bedtime [can] give you a special bond with your baby,” Dr. Royce says.
4. Create a bedtime ritual.
“I love to put on Belly Balm by The Honest Co. after I get out of the shower at night. It’s a little oily, so I keep my robe on until it dries and then change into PJs and crawl into bed,” Ellen L., 32, tells SELF. “I find the ritual of giving my growing belly a little love before bed to be calming.”
Making (and sticking to) a bedtime ritual might seem too simple to help you get quality rest, but it signals to your body that it’s time to get to sleep, Dr. Boester says. You’re basically trying to cut out any time spent decompressing when your head hits the pillow by creating space for it before bed instead.
5. Try some yoga.
“I just YouTubed prenatal yoga,” Merlin V., 32, tells SELF. “I don’t do it every night, but the times I have I felt relaxed and slept really well.”
There are a few reasons why some experts are fans of prenatal yoga. “Many women find the gentle stretching and breathing exercises to be relaxing,” Dr. Royce says. “Prenatal yoga is an excellent way to continue fitness and flexibility during pregnancy,” she adds, which may help you feel a bit better during labor.
Before you dive in, “Consult with your prenatal care provider to make sure yoga is safe for you, especially if you have not exercised regularly before pregnancy,” Dr. Royce says. If you get the green light and are opting for online yoga, make sure it’s explicitly meant for pregnant people, Dr. Royce says, and don’t push your body in any way that feels too uncomfortable. If you’re taking a yoga class in real life, tell the instructor you’re pregnant, Dr. Royce says, because certain poses need to be modified or are best avoided when you’re expecting.
6. Use a humidifier.
As Merlin explains, this helped keep her nasal passages open, making issues like congestion less likely to interrupt her sleep while pregnant.
“Pregnant women can be prone to nasal congestion,” Regan Theiler, M.D., an obstetrician and gynecologist at the Mayo Clinic, tells SELF. This is because of hormonal fluctuations and the fact that, when you’re pregnant, your blood volume increases between 30 and 50 percent, according to the Merck Manual. This combination can lead to swollen, blood-filled mucous membranes in your nose that make it tough to breathe and leave you prone to nosebleeds, Dr. Boester explains. If you’re constantly breathing really dry air, that can make nosebleeds even more likely.
A humidifier can help keep your nose’s membranes moist (as can gently swabbing the inside of your nose with a Q-tip covered in petroleum jelly), Dr. Boester says.
7. Adjust your mattress.
“Sounds fancy, but I loved that our bed had an adjustable mattress,” Gracy M., 31, tells SELF. “I feel like being able to change the position of the bed was really helpful and prevented me from having indigestion 99 percent of the time!”
Elevating your head a little in bed can help keep down stomach acid that would otherwise rise into your chest and throat, potentially causing discomfort and waking you up. If you have an adjustable mattress and are dealing with heartburn, try changing the angle at which you sleep. If you don’t have an adjustable mattress? “Even raising the head of the bed a little with a conventional mattress can help with reflux symptoms,” Dr. Theiler says. (Try stacking some books underneath the head of the bed as one option.)
8. Stay active.
Vickie O., 34, found that pregnancy naturally sapped some of her energy, but exerting herself further with exercise helped her sleep better.
For a lot of people, exercise can improve the quality and quantity of your sleep, Dr. Wain says. (As long as you’re not, say, doing it right before bed, when it may contribute to restlessness.)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests aiming for 150 weekly minutes of moderately intense aerobic exercise during pregnancy. As we mentioned above, you should definitely talk to your doctor about what level and type of exercise are safe for you during pregnancy, Dr. Royce says. It’s all about doing what works best for you both mentally and physically.
9. Get up if you can’t sleep.
Lauren M., 34, dealt with insomnia during both of her pregnancies. If she was still awake 20 minutes after lying down for bed, she would get up and do something like read or work through a few gentle yoga poses.
“With insomnia, you can keep yourself up and keep yourself from getting into that relaxed state that’s needed for sleep,” Dr. Boester says. “What might work for one person might not work for another, but distracting yourself instead of thinking about still being awake might … allow you to refocus your attention and get calm again.”
When experimenting with what might work for you here, just keep that whole no-screens thing in mind. You don’t want to introduce a ton of light that might keep you up even longer.
“Meditation was key for me during pregnancy,” Teresa T., 44, tells SELF, explaining that practicing controlled breathing helped her relax and fall asleep. “I would shut my eyes, close my mouth, inhale through my nose for a count of three, hold my breath at the top for a count of three, exhale out of my nose for a count of three, then pause at the bottom for a count of three, and start again,” she says.
Engaging in slow, deep breathing can be a great way to relax as you lie in bed waiting for sleep. Plus, Dr. Royce says, all that practice centering yourself can come in handy during labor and when raising children.