September 18, 2020 3 min read
Are you pregnant and having trouble sleeping?
You aren’t alone. About 66% of women report sleep problems during pregnancy, particularly in the third trimester with common causes being baby movements, heartburn and reflux, leg cramps, and shortness of breath.
Insomnia tends to be experienced by women later in pregnancy, and if you do have it, you may feel irritable, frustrated and even hopeless at times.
You may have insomnia in pregnancy if you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, waking from sleep too early in the morning or not feeling restored upon waking.
It’s unclear why some women will experience insomnia while other’s do not. We do know there are many physical and hormonal changes that happen when you’re pregnant.
It’s thought that insomnia may worsen right before labour because the body produces oxytocin, which is a hormone that keeps you awake. What’s more, higher levels of estrogen and progesterone may also lead to higher cortisol levels ( the stress hormone!) which makes it harder to sleep. Sleep problems in pregnancy may also be associated with anxiety and depression.
If you’re looking for natural approaches to improve your sleep, you can try these three strategies at home: ritualising bedtime, creating a bedtime routine and adopting a positive mindset.
Take a calming approach to sleep with a bedtime ritual. Sip on some herbal tea, have a warm soak in the bath, slip into some luxury sleepwearand listen to calming music or meditation. Avoid caffeine, exercise, and too much screen time before bed as heightened arousal is not conducive to sleep. Above all, be kind to yourself.
There’s no avoiding this one. A good bedtime routine is essential to establish a better sleep pattern. To begin with, only go to bed at night when you feel sleepy. Set your alarm to wake in the morning and avoid daytime naps where possible.
It may be tempting to sleep in if you have been up all night, but getting up out of bed at the same time every day is the fastest way to reset your sleep cycle. Over time, this behaviour will also encourage your body to become sleepy at the same time every night.
This may sound simplistic, but adopting a positive mindset is a technique that works. If you go to bed expecting to have an awful night, then you probably will!
Avoid obsessing or worrying about not sleeping. If you wake for a prolonged period of time do not lie there until you become frustrated or upset. You need to feel relaxed, not stressed, to drift off to asleep. Also, try not to look at the time when you do wake.
Instead, get up out of bed, grab your linen robe and do something else, something relaxing or even slightly boring. Try reading a book or doing a crossword puzzle, writing in a journal or folding the washing. Avoid doing things which will stimulate your mind like watching television or looking at your mobile phone screen. When you begin to feel sleepy again, return to bed.
These are just a few natural approaches to treating pregnancy insomnia, and it may take a couple of days or weeks before you notice a change. There is limited research on the use of natural therapies in pregnancy, but you may also find acupuncture, massage, meditation or prenatal yoga beneficial for insomnia too.
While pregnancy sleep problems are common, if you are struggling with insomnia or generally feeling worried or sad, then have a chat to your midwife, obstetrician or GP to find out what supports and psychological therapies are available locally.
Lauren Keegan is a Sydney-based psychologist,freelance health writer and mum of two. She has ten years’ experience working in the public mental health sector and specialises in working with women during pregnancy and the early postpartum period.
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