Pregnancy insomnia can occur at any point during pregnancy, but it’s more common during the last few months, when changes to the body are at their most extreme. As much as 80 percent of patients suffer from this problem at some point during their pregnancies.
While doctors don’t distinguish this form of insomnia from conventional sleeplessness, pregnant insomnia sufferers tend to have a number of causes in common. They can also use many of the same treatments to get relief.
Some people have trouble falling asleep, while others find themselves waking up regularly during the night.
It may be hard to get back to sleep if noise, light, or the need to go to the bathroom wake patients up during the night. The sleep that they do get may be of poor quality and leave them feeling tired and moody.
Insomnia during pregnancy is caused by a wide range of common factors. These are all based on physical and hormonal changes that occur during the pregnancy, so insomnia tends to be at its worst when patients are nearing term and those changes are most severe.
Here are a few of the potential causes for this kind of insomnia:
- Abdominal discomfort – Changes in the size and shape of the abdomen may be uncomfortable enough to keep patients awake or cause them to sleep poorly.
- Back pain – Many people suffer from back pain due to the difference in weight distribution and posture that occurs during pregnancy. This can cause unrestful sleep, difficulty getting to sleep, or frequent wakeups.
- Heartburn – During pregnancy, the uterus expands and compresses the stomach and esophagus, making painful acid reflux more common. This is especially likely when patients lie flat on their backs.
- Anxiety – The hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy can cause a significant increase in the brain chemicals responsible for anxiety and depression.
- Frequent, vivid dreams – Many pregnant patients find that changes in their hormones also cause them to dream vividly. These dreams may wake them up throughout the night.
- Frequent urination – Uterine expansion can also compress the bladder and kidneys, causing pregnant patients to wake repeatedly in the night to use the bathroom.
- Anticipation – With a baby on the way, many new parents experience excitement, worry and other strong emotions that may cause nighttime wakeups and poor sleep quality.
- Leg cramps – Painful cramps caused by hormonal and nutritional changes often occur at night.
Treatment for this form of insomnia usually focuses on easing discomfort and targeting the symptoms, since the causes are difficult to treat. Some of the commonly-used options include:
- Pre-bed calming rituals such as tea, soft music or meditation
- A dark, quiet sleeping environment
- Changes in sleeping positions
- Relaxation exercises
- Daily physical exercise
- Daytime napping
- Changes in eating habits to prevent heartburn
- Reducing caffeine consumption
- Reducing fluid intake close to bedtime
- Mild sedatives when behavioral and environmental methods fail
Pregnancy insomnia is fundamentally a short-term disorder. Most patients recover within a relatively short period after birth, though new babies may also complicate sleep.
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