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Having Trouble Sleeping? Pregnancy Insomnia Shouldn’t be Ignored

When you have difficulty falling or staying asleep, it’s called insomnia. While insomnia can strike at any time, pregnant individuals may be particularly susceptible. Insomnia during pregnancy can start as early as conception and continue into the postpartum period.

There can be many causes of insomnia during this time, often related to emotional, physical, behavioral, or hormonal changes that are normal parts of pregnancy. However, insomnia during pregnancy could also indicate a medical problem.

Whatever the reason, not getting a good night’s sleep during pregnancy can be physically and emotionally exhausting. Let’s take a closer look at pregnancy insomnia, including why it may happen and what you can do about it.

Having Trouble Sleeping? Pregnancy Insomnia Shouldn’t be Ignored

Is insomnia an early sign of pregnancy?

Insomnia in early pregnancy can be somewhat common, with around 13% of expectant parents having difficulty sleeping during the first trimester. Even the American Pregnancy Association calls it normal to experience insomnia during pregnancy.

However, lying awake at night isn’t a reliable sign of pregnancy if you’re trying to conceive. If you’re experiencing insomnia before your period, pregnancy isn’t assured; you may just be nervous or excited about the possibility of conceiving or feeling the effects of hormonal changes consistent with your menstrual cycle.

What causes insomnia during early pregnancy?

When it comes to confirmed early pregnancy insomnia, progesterone and estrogen — the most well-known pregnancy hormones — may be to blame. These hormonal changes can trigger insomnia in very early pregnancy and continue to cause difficulties as the pregnancy progresses.

As your baby develops, your hormones will continue to cause changes in your body. You might find yourself going to the bathroom more often or experiencing nausea and vomiting, both of which can keep you from catching precious Zs.

Sometimes, you may experience behavioral and emotional side effects of pregnancy that can throw off your sleep. You might be excited and anxious, which can affect your sleeping habits. Your normal routine will probably also change during pregnancy as you start avoiding your nightly glass of wine or cutting back on caffeine. Either of these adjustments has the potential to alter your sleep habits. 

…hormonal changes can trigger insomnia in very early pregnancy and continue to cause difficulties as the pregnancy progresses.

Can pregnancy cause insomnia in the second trimester and beyond?

Unfortunately, as you enter the second and third trimesters, your insomnia may not ease up and could actually get worse as the physical discomfort and emotional fluctuations of pregnancy increase.

One study found that over 60% of pregnant patients reported insomnia in their third trimester. Likely because a slew of pregnancy symptoms can accompany the frequent urination and upset stomach felt in the first trimester. Such as:

  • Leg cramps
  • Changes in sleeping position
  • Back pain
  • Fetal movement
  • Shortness of breath while lying down

What else can cause insomnia during pregnancy?

If you’re pregnant and can’t sleep, it also could be the result of a medical condition related to or made worse by being pregnant.

Restless leg syndrome

While it may sound like a made-up condition, restless leg syndrome (RLS) is very real and can be very frustrating.

With RLS, you’ll experience tingling, crawling, or creeping sensations in your legs, making you feel like you have to move your legs. About 15% of Americans experience RLS during pregnancy.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease

Pregnancy can also trigger or exacerbate gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This condition is characterized by chest pain, nausea, heartburn, and hoarseness as stomach acid rises into your esophagus.

Various pregnancy changes, like an expanding fetus pressing on your organs, low muscle tone affecting the sphincters that keep digestive acid in your stomach, and diet changes, make GERD a relatively common pregnancy side effect.

Nightmares

While not technically a medical condition, pregnancy can result in increased frequency and intensity of nightmares. Researchers found that intense and disturbing nightmares may increase in frequency during the third trimester, affecting as many as 50% of pregnant people.

The increased stress and anxiety of your pregnancy, upcoming delivery, and life as a new parent can trigger nightmares and poor sleep quality.

Is insomnia in late pregnancy a sign of labor?

Speaking of delivery, those nearing their due date may wonder if their inability to sleep is a sign that labor is impending. Sleep problems before labor can actually be quite common, but it isn’t a definitive sign that your little one is about to make their debut. Instead, all the hormonal fluctuations and physical discomforts you’ve been experiencing are likely peaking, leading to trouble sleeping.

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Is too little sleep while pregnant bad?

Quality, regular sleep is vital for your body to be able to function properly. An adult needs seven to eight hours of sleep per night, and that is even more important during pregnancy! Perinatal insomnia that isn’t well controlled does come with risks.

During pregnancy, you may have a higher chance of sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea, when a person stops breathing, gasps for air, or snores loudly and frequently at night. Sleep-related breathing issues like this can decrease the amount of oxygen and blood flow reaching your baby, putting them at risk.

Insomnia may also increase your risk for preeclampsia or high blood pressure (gestational hypertension). Untreated preeclampsia can be life-threatening to both parent and child.

Poor sleep is also linked to gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM). One study found that those with insomnia during their first trimester had a higher likelihood of GDM developing between 24-28 weeks.

Pregnancy insomnia can also produce negative side effects during childbirth and after your baby is born. Those with sleep issues while pregnant may have more painful and longer labor. They may also need a C-section or have a premature or low-birth-weight baby.

In the postpartum period, those with uncontrolled pregnancy insomnia may experience increased mood swings, depression, and parent-child bonding troubles. Sleep deprivation may also make your recovery slower. Sometimes, postpartum insomnia is a warning sign of postpartum depression (PPD). 

When should you be concerned about insomnia in pregnancy?

Of course, not all insomnia in pregnant women is cause for concern. However, if your insomnia is frequent or interfering with your life, such as relentless sleepiness even after naps, let your provider know. You should also contact your healthcare provider if you notice any of the following sleep-related symptoms.

  • Night wakings
  • Loud snoring
  • Mental health changes such as irritability or depression
  • Falling asleep during the day
  • Inability to complete daily routine or tasks
  • Not feeling rested when you rise in the morning
  • Frequent issues falling asleep
  • Waking up not being able to breathe or gasping for air

How to help pregnancy insomnia

For those who have pregnancy and insomnia, it can be a terrible experience. Lying there night after night awake while your household is happily dreaming can leave you searching for pregnancy insomnia remedies. The National Sleep Foundation advises paying attention to your sleep hygiene as the first proactive step and then tailoring routines and habits to your needs.

Home remedies for lack of sleep during pregnancy can include:

  • A warm bath
  • Creating a consistent bedtime routine and regular wake-up time
  • Decreasing screen time before bed
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Keeping your room dim and cool
  • Use of a pregnancy pillow

If lifestyle changes and natural interventions aren’t working, you may want to contact our OB/GYN to discuss your sleep patterns and troubling sleep disturbances.

While you may be tempted to turn to melatonin supplements or over-the-counter sleep aids right away, call our office first. Some medications and supplements aren’t recommended during pregnancy, so it’s important to discuss the possible side effects and benefits before adding any new medications.

Have more questions about pregnancy and insomnia? Talk to Dr. Rad

Perinatologist Dr. Rad and his world-class team at Los Angeles Fetal and Maternal Care Center understand your pregnancy — before, during, and after birth.

A master of obstetrics, gynecology, maternal-fetal medicine (perinatology), and high-risk pregnancies, Dr. Rad and his team provide compassionate care to help you understand your pregnancy. Our team is available 24/7 to answer your questions and provide the emotional support needed to safely navigate your pregnancy.

Dr. Rad is currently accepting new patients. Call us at (844) 473-6100 or schedule your consultation online.

We are conveniently located for patients throughout Southern California and the Los Angeles area at locations in or near Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, West Los Angeles, West Hollywood, Culver City, Hollywood, Venice, Marina del Rey, Malibu, Manhattan Beach, Newport Beach, Irvine, and Downtown Los Angeles. We also offer in-home prenatal care and a fly-in program for out-of-town and international patients. Dr. Rad even travels to patients who need him throughout the U.S. and around the world.

If you can’t make it to Dr. Rad, he also offers virtual consultations worldwide.

Call (844) 473-6100 or click here to schedule online