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The Significance of Sleep During Pregnancy

Quality sleep is important for overall body health; that means it's especially important for women who are pregnant. Moms-to-be need sufficient sleep to regulate growth hormone levels but also to strengthen their immune systems and reduce internal inflammation.

Unfortunately, for a whole slew of reasons, pregnancy can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Certain hormones increase, you may feel the need to go to the bathroom more frequently. Or you might just have a tough time finding a comfortable sleeping position with your belly which seems to be getting bigger each day.

Good quality sleep really is important when it comes to pregnancy. However, a lack of sleep can increase the length of labor or even make it more likely you'll need a C-section.

GDM linked to sleep deprivation

More severely, poor sleep during pregnancy has been linked to a condition called gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM). This is one of the most common pregnancy-related diseases and can potentially have severe effects on both mother and child. Some of these include fetal growth restriction and other abnormalities. In extreme cases, GDM can result in fetal malformation, fetal dysplasia, fetal macrosomia, miscarriage, or premature birth.

Like its cousin type 2 diabetes, GDM is increasing in prevalence worldwide. Sleep duration - along with obesity - is considered to be an important risk factor. The duration and quality of sleep are variables that have been linked to changes in glucose metabolism and T2DM. Chronic sleep deficiency is a risk factor for the conditions grouped under "metabolic syndrome".  Such as obesity and impaired glucose tolerance, confirmed by both epidemiological and animal studies.

Many women just find themselves feeling exhausted during pregnancy. In general, each trimester is different when it comes to sleep: the first and third are the hardest, with the second usually providing some respite.
First Trimester
During the first trimester, your body is adjusting to the very novel - especially if it's your first pregnancy - situation of needing to help your child grow. No wonder so many women are caught off guard; this process can definitely take its toll on you and have you feeling spent.

One of the main culprits for feeling fatigued during the first trimester is the hormone progesterone, which is in connection with regulating menstrual cycles

Interestingly, a link has been demonstrated between sleep quality in the first trimester and a woman's reproductive health in the third trimester. Specifically, women who got less than 5 hours of sleep per night during their first trimester were nearly 10 times more likely to develop preeclampsia - a condition involving high blood pressure and possible damage to internal organ systems - later in pregnancy.
Second Trimester
Some have described the second trimester as the "honeymoon phase" of pregnancy - this is a space between the first and third trimesters where hormones level out. Sleep may be better than during the first or third trimesters, but you may still have some issues

During the second trimester, you may feel your little one starting to kick. This can certainly be exciting but also a bit annoying when you're trying to fall asleep at night!

Additionally, it's not uncommon to be dealing with leg cramps, congestion, sleep apnea (and the snoring that comes with it), excessive dreaming, heartburn, or indigestion during the second trimester.
Third Trimester
During the third trimester, blood flow increases as the uterus continues to enlarge. This can make the pregnant woman feel tired during the day, but can also wake them up as they're sleeping.

Hormone changes result in changes in body temperature - for instance, you may find yourself feeling very hot, which is not helpful when you're trying to fall asleep. Perspiration while sleeping, even in the colder months, is common. Snoring may also increase as your pregnant belly reaches its maximum size and nasal congestion increases.
Benefits of Good Sleep During Pregnancy
While it can be difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep while pregnant, it's important to do what you can to ensure this happens. Some of the benefits of good sleep while pregnant include:

  • Reduction of stress
  • Helps your baby gain the proper amount of weight
  • Maybe help you have a full-term delivery
  • Helps keep placenta previa at bay
  • Reduces depression, especially post-partum depression
  • Your immune system will be healthier and do a better job of protecting your infant

How to Get Good Sleep During Pregnancy
By now,  you're probably convinced of how important it is to get good quality sleep during pregnancy. That's one thing, but how do you actually get it?

Below, we'll give some tips on how to maximize your chances of getting a good night's sleep while pregnant.

Correct Sleeping Position

Just finding a comfortable sleeping position can be a big challenge when you're pregnant -because of this big belly!

Sleeping on your back isn't a good idea since your enlarged uterus can compress the abdominal aorta, affecting the blood supply to the uterus and thereby fetal development. Obviously, laying on your belly is no longer an option, so you may have a really hard time if you were always a stomach sleeper.

It's actually best to lie on your left side because this keeps the uterus from exerting pressure on your liver. It also helps maintain healthy circulation and so encourages healthy fetal development.

You can also tuck a pillow between your knees and keep them bent, as this position is more conducive to sleep
Good Indoor Environment
indoor environment better for a good night's sleep

Temperature and humidity are important for encouraging a good night's sleep. An appropriate indoor temperature is between 62.5 °F ~73 °F, and an appropriate indoor humidity lies between 40 % ~ 60 %.

Indoor air conditioners are good for maintaining a good temperature, but also for disinfecting the air. So consider getting one if possible.

Comfortable Bedding

This one may seem obvious, but it's often overlooked - maybe your bed just isn't that comfortable! You don't want a mattress that is too soft, like those from Simmons. Medium or medium-firm mattresses are a better choice.

Make sure to use a soft pillow that provides proper elevation.

As for what to wear to bed, comfortable, breathable pajamas should do the trick. And you can even wear them to the hospital when it comes time for the baby to be delivered

Exercise

gentle exercises beneficial to sleep during pregnancy

Gentle exercises are great for pregnant women and have the added benefit of helping you fall asleep at night.

Consider something like yoga, going for brisk walks, or gentle swimming. Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise per day.

Don't exercise in the hours before bedtime, though, as this can stimulate your mind and make it harder to fall asleep.

Get Relaxed

Your bedroom should be your happy place, a sleep haven. But " relax" is a lot easier said than done, though.

One thing you should do is try your best to sleep in complete or near-complete darkness. As darkness stimulates your pineal gland to produce melatonin, the sleep hormone. Blue-light, such as that emitted from TVs, smart phones, or tablets, inhibits the production of melatonin, so do your best to abstain from using these devices before sleep.

Instead of browsing the Internet, consider reading an uncomplicated book.  Maybe you could even read a story you enjoyed in your childhood, one you hope to read to your child when they're old enough.

Taking a warm bath or drinking a cup of warm milk are some tried-and-true methods. Consider lowering the temperature with an air conditioner or quiet fan.

Overall, try not to put too much pressure on yourself to fall asleep, as stressing yourself out will just keep you up! If you really can't fall asleep, get up and read a book, take a bath, or even work on knitting a piece of clothing for your baby.

Maintain a Healthy Diet

To help you sleep, you'll want to make sure you're getting enough protein in your diet. Depending on your weight, it's important to get between 70 to 100 grams of protein each day.

Why protein? Well, protein intake lowers serotonin levels in the brain, which are highest when we are awake and active. Carboyhydrates, on the other hand, are the opposite of proteins in this regard. Eating too many cakes, candies, or refined grains will cause your serotonin levels to spike, making your body think it's time to be up and awake.

Millet is another substance you'll want to consume. It's rich in tryptophan, a chemical that helps you feel sleepy - you probably know it best from Thanksgiving turkey dinners. Longan, especially longan tea, is also a good choice.

Make sure to keep regular meal times to prevent your body from feeling unnecessarily fatigued. Do your best not to overeat, and eat a diverse diet including fruits and vegetables. Drink water, and eat foods rich in iron to prevent anemia.

To avoid heartburn - another common symptom for pregnant women, especially in the third trimester - avoid foods high in fat and those with strong flavors.

Keep Good Habits

Overall, it's important to maintain a healthy lifestyle while pregnant. Now, it's not the time to stay up until 3 in the morning - do your best to go to bed and get out of bed at a consistent time each day.

If need be, you can take a short, 30-minute nap in the middle of the day to try and make up for lost sleep at night.

Consider making to-do lists for the next day so you're not laying in bed stressing, trying to think of all you need to get done. Make sleep time about just that: sleeping!