It is sod's law that pregnancy – one of the most tiring things you might ever experience – often brings with it a lengthy bout of insomnia... Zzzz!
What is it?
Insomnia is the inability to sleep, however tired you might feel. Not many women get through an entire pregnancy without experiencing some sleeping difficulties, and when you are exhausted from the strain of creating human life, not being able to drop off can feel a bit like torture.
There are many reasons why pregnant women suffer from insomnia, many of them to do with the physical changes occurring in the body at various stages.
Early on, it could be nausea or hunger which is preventing you from sleeping. It might also be the constant need to get up and have a wee (actually, this could stay with you throughout).
As time progresses and your bump becomes larger, you might find it very difficult to get comfortable in bed. You might have back ache, restless legs or tender boobs. And let's not forget the biggest physical change to your insides – the baby itself! Many seem to stay quiet during the day, when your movements are rocking them to sleep, but wake up just as soon as you want to be still. There's nothing like a good kick under the ribs to jolt you from slumber!
Some women find that anxiety keeps them awake – either about labour or about how life will change once the baby arrives. Or it might be down to excitement – not being able to stop wondering what your baby will be like when you finally meet them.
Often, women find they can drop off okay after a tiring day, but then they wake in the early hours and find it impossible to sleep again, meaning they've had only half a night's sleep. It's very difficult to function when you're so tired, so you need to try every trick in the book to get some decent shut-eye.
What can I do?
As a general rule, medication is a no-no – if you are suffering very badly with lack of sleep, go and see your GP and he or she will offer you advice and suggest the best course of action. In the vast majority of cases though, you just have to go with it and find out what works for you.
Here are some things to try:
• Even if you had a rubbish night last night, don't go to bed until you feel really tired. It might help to normalise your sleeping routine, and people tend to sleep better if they go to bed at the same time each night.
• Although you need to stay hydrated throughout the day, try to avoid drinking a lot in the couple of hours before bed time. It's good to know that pre-sleep wee will be the last one you'll need for at least a few hours.
• You should be watching your caffeine intake anyway, but definitely avoid tea, coffee, cola and chocolate in the late afternoon and evening. Don't have a huge meal either – spread your food out, with regular light meals and snacks.
• Find your perfect position – lie on your left hand side when you go to bed, and try supporting your bump with a pillow. Some women pop a cushion between their knees, others sleep almost sitting up. If you are finding it difficult to sleep in bed with your partner (because it's making you too hot, or because their movement is disturbing you) politely ask if you could spend a few nights sleeping separately.
• Open the window a little, and turn the central heating off. It's much better to have a slightly chilled room and a warm duvet. If you leave the heating on during the winter, it can get really stuffy in the night.
• In the summer time, when it's hot outside, keep your bedroom cool by leaving the curtains closed all day. And buy an electric fan, or a air conditioning tower, if the night time temperature is unbearable.
• Wind down properly before bed – have a bath or shower, and read until your eyes feel tired. Keep all forms of entertainment, other than a good book, out of the bedroom.
• Although exercise does not seem very appealing when you're already feeling tired, some physical exertion, such as taking gentle walks or swimming, can help you to sleep better through the night.
• If you can't get straight to sleep, or if you wake in the night, don't lie there feeling frustrated about it. Get up, go into a room with low lighting, and perhaps listen to a quiet radio station or audio book. Or just read a bit more, until you feel sleepy again.
• Sometimes you're hungry and you don't even know it. A midnight snack – such as a piece of toast or a banana – can help you to settle back down.
• Have you been trying out some breathing exercises at antenatal classes? Or going go pregnancy yoga? Try using some of the techniques you have learned in bed to settle your brain. If it doesn't work, at least you have had a good practice!
• If sleep is becoming a real issue towards the end of your pregnancy, you might consider starting your maternity leave a little earlier so you can sleep at any time of the day. It's natural that some women want to keep working for as long as possible, to maximise the time they have off once the baby has arrived – but giving birth will be the start of what could potentially be an incredibly tiring few months. Getting lots of rest before your baby arrives will be good for both of you.
We'd love to tell you that, like so many other pregnancy symptoms, all will return to normal once your baby arrives! But of course, this is one issue that's unlikely to improve, for a little while at least.
That said, even with the eye bags, it's all worth it in the end.
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