Pregnancy insomnia: What's affecting your sleep during pregnancy?

Dr. Colleen Ehrnstrom's profile picture
Dr. Colleen Ehrnstrom, PhD
Oct 3, 20215 min read
Pregnant woman holding belly

Sleep deprivation is an unavoidable part of becoming a mother. Caring for an infant isn't easy. Coupled with abrupt changes in hormone levels, sleep is often a distant reality. Thus, it is normal for moms to suffer a drop in energy and mood in the first few weeks after giving birth.

For many women, sleep troubles begin even earlier -- during pregnancy. Research shows that up to 78% of pregnant women have trouble sleeping, with 44.2% suffering from insomnia during their first trimester. Are you one of these women? If so, don't worry. This is completely normal and can happen to anyone. 

Read on to learn more about pregnancy insomnia and what you can do to treat it.

What Is Insomnia?

Insomnia is defined as one or more of the following:  falling asleep, staying asleep, waking too early, or feeling tired during the day. These symptoms occur even when you give your body the opportunity for sleep (as opposed to the symptoms associated with sleep deprivation). 

The following questions are a good way to help you recognize if you have insomnia.

Do you find yourself struggling to sleep? Even if you do sleep, do you wake up several times during the night? Do you wake up earlier than you would like to in the morning? Are you tired during the day and find it difficult to focus? Do you feel tired but unable to nap?

If you are able to answer “yes” to any of these questions, and this has been your experience for more days than not for at least one month, you are likely experiencing insomnia.

What Is Pregnancy Insomnia?

Sleep disturbances such as insomnia are common in pregnancy. In fact, insomnia is the most common sleep disturbance experienced by pregnant women.

Sleep issues and changes in sleep patterns often begin during the first trimester. These are likely a result of the rapid changes in hormone levels. For example, levels of progesterone rise during the first trimester and can affect your sleep cycle. Sleep can also be impacted by environmental stressors and/or pre-existing psychological or medical conditions.

As pregnancy progresses, many women find it hard to get comfortable enough to sleep well. It's not just the baby belly, though. Other physical changes that affect sleep duration and quality include: 

  • Backaches
  • Breast tenderness
  • Abdominal bloating and distention
  • Heartburn
  • Hot flashes
  • Leg cramps
  • Trips to the restroom; When you're pregnant, using the restroom in the middle of the night is common and can keep you awake.
  • Vivid dreams
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Snoring. During pregnancy, your nasal passages may expand, causing you to snore. This may briefly block breathing over and over during sleep (If you have trouble breathing while trying to sleep, talk to your doctor. You may want to assess for sleep apnea, a medical condition).

Psychological factors can also cause insomnia. With a new baby on the way, there is so much to think about. The constant stress and anxiety adds to your sleeping woes.

Coping With Pregnancy Insomnia

While insomnia during pregnancy is common, it usually does not mean anything is medically problematic. Fortunately, simple lifestyle modifications, especially changes to your sleep habits, can help.

For example, experimenting with different sleeping positions can work. You can also set yourself up for a peaceful night by focusing on shifting into a more relaxed state.  before bed. Have a warm bath or reward yourself with a relaxing massage. Listen to soothing natural noises.

Fine-tuning your environment is also important. Adjust your thermostat to your ideal temperature and remove any unnecessary distractions, such as your television or bright lights.

What you do during the day can have a significant impact on how you promote or interfere with your sleep. If you have the opportunity to sleep during the day, consider taking advantage of it. Though longer naps can disrupt your sleep schedule, shorter amounts of sleeping, or even resting, can be nourishing. Exercising during the day can also help you de-stress and sleep better. Be sure to discuss exercise with your doctor so you know which types of exercise are safe for you.

If your insomnia persists despite these changes, consult a doctor. Doctors may recommend non-pharmacological interventions such as cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I).

CBT-I Can Help With Pregnancy Insomnia

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the gold standard therapy for treating various forms of insomnia. It is a cognitive behavioral therapy that focuses on the premise that how we think, our behaviors, and our emotions are all linked and influence one another. CBT-I can help patients manage how their sleep-related thoughts, feelings, and behaviors promote and interfere with sleep. 

Behavioral and cognitive interventions are among the most effective techniques for bringing about change. CBT-I uses both to identify and replace the thoughts and behaviors causing your sleep problems. It reframes your perception of sleep so that you spend more time sleeping and less worrying about it. It also supports a routine that supports your body’s natural ability to know when and how to fall asleep and stay asleep. 

Learn More

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Dr. Colleen Ehrnstrom's profile picture
Dr. Colleen Ehrnstrom, PhD

Dr. Colleen Ehrnstrom is a licensed clinical psychologist with a specialty practice in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Areas of expertise include insomnia and other sleep disorders, anxiety, and depression.

Dr. Ehrnstrom is not a medical provider and is not providing any recommendations regarding medications. Rather, she is sharing and reviewing the research as it relates to education when learning how best to treat insomnia.

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