Insomnia and problems sleeping during pregnancy

Insomnia affects many pregnant women - but there are things you can do to grab some much-needed rest. Dr Zoe Langridge of Doctor Care Anywhere has some tips

pregnant woman bed

What causes insomnia during pregnancy?

Interrupted sleep is, as many mothers will attest, not uncommon in all stages of pregnancy - think of it as a taste of things to come! Causes of insomnia include: 

  • Back pain

  • Heartburn

  • Getting up to urinate frequently during the night

  • Frequent and vivid dreams

  • Discomfort due to the increased size of your belly, especially after 33 weeks

  • Anxiety

  • Anticipation of the arrival of your baby

  • Hormonal changes

What is insomnia?

If you feel you're getting inadequate or poor quality sleep, you're experiencing insomnia. On some nights, it can feel as though you are getting no sleep at all - but you are probably getting more than you think.

Insomnia may manifest itself as:

  • Difficulty falling asleep

  • Waking up frequently during the night

  • Difficulty returning to sleep

  • Unrefreshing sleep

How common is insomnia throughout pregnancy?

Insomnia affects around 75% of expectant mums, especially in the third trimester, when sleeping becomes more uncomfortable due to the size of your bump.

It can seem incredibly frustrating that, at a time when you need sleep the most, you can’t get it. Try to think of it as good practice for what lies ahead once baby arrives - at least it won't be such a shock to the system! 

do not disturb sleep sign

What you can do to prevent insomnia during pregnancy

Here are some simple things you can do to aid sleep and relaxation:

  • Don't worry. Easier said than done, we know, but sometimes just letting go of the worry is all it takes to help you sleep.  Remember: insomnia can't hurt you or your baby. If you have persistent worries that are keeping you awake, talk about them with your partner, a friend or doctor and try to sort them out during daylight hours - or try writing them down.
  • Have a relaxed, early dinner. Take your time eating and don’t eat too close to bedtime - this will help keep heartburn at bay. 
  • Drink earlier. Try to get in enough fluids during the day and early evening to cut down on the need to get up to wee during the night.
  • Avoid caffeine and chocolate, especially in the late afternoon or evening, since they can keep you awake. 
  • Get some daily exercise, but not too close to bedtime. Low-impact activity like walking, swimming or pregnancy yoga can help combat insomnia.
  • Make a bedtime routine. Try to go to sleep and get up at around the same time every day. Before bed, try reading a book, listen to soothing music, or watch TV until you feel sleepy.
  • Relax. Try a warm bath, warm milk or a massage to relax you.
  • Get comfortable. If you're uncomfortable, you won't sleep. Check the temperature - opening a window might help if you're stuffy. Make sure the mattress and pillows give you solid support - a body pillow may help with that.
  • Save your bed for sleep. In other words,  try to avoid doing ‘daytime’ activities in bed, ie writing emails, doing admin.
  • If you're not sleeping, get up. If you’re not asleep after 20 to 30 minutes of trying get up and then try to go to sleep again after pottering around. 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 actually be getting enough rest.

Alternative therapies which may help with insomnia:
  • Lavender, camomile or ylang ylang essential oils may help. Put the drops on a tissue, not your pillow, so you can use fresh oil each time - or add them to your evening bath. 
  • Bach Flower Remedies, such as Rescue Remedy, may ease general stress, and any tension that's keeping you awake. There's no good evidence that these are effective, but many women find them helpful. 
  • Massage, aromatherapy, and reflexology can help you to relax. 
  • If backache or other physical problems keep you awake, osteopathy, physiotherapy or a chiropractor may ease them. 

If you are really struggling with insomnia, speak to your doctor - there maybe something they can suggest that will help.

Talk to your midwife, too. She's there to support you emotionally as well as physically throughout your pregnancy. Or if you have more pressing emotional issues, you can discuss the need for a counselling referral.

What Mumsnetters recommend for combatting insomnia:

"Progressive muscle relaxation can be good - just tense and release individual parts of your body, starting at your toes and work your way up."

"I find that meditation videos or recordings with nature sounds or white noise help. It's just something to listen to other than your own thoughts. The ability to tune out is a major part of falling asleep."

"Small things like having no light displays (alarm clock, TV light, phone etc) helped me, but not drastically."

"I've been listening to a hypnobirthing app on my phone which does a really good job of relaxing me and sending me to sleep."

"When I can't sleep, I get up and have a bath. Then I put a pillow under my bump or between my legs and that makes me feel more relaxed."

"I seem to fall asleep ok, so my response is to just go to bed earlier and earlier and clock up the hours!"

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Last updated: about 2 months ago