Insomnia and Pregnancy Connection

Insomnia during pregnancy is common, but what can you do? In a recent study concerning insomnia and pregnancy, researchers concluded that sleep disturbances are quite common among pregnant women. The study was conducted by researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago. Here are some of the highlights of that and other studies.

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189 women completed the surveys provided by the researchers at Northwestern studying insomnia and pregnancy. The questions concerned how long they were able to sleep and how often they snored. They were asked about restless leg syndrome and other sleep disorders.

The women were all healthy. They completed the questionnaires early on in their pregnancies and answered the same questions again during the third trimester.

The amount of time they were able to sleep decreased slightly during the third trimester. Some of the women snored a little more.

The incidence of restless leg syndrome was nearly twice as high during the third trimester as compared to the first or second. Restless leg is often a symptom of low magnesium, which is easily correctable with dietary changes.

Insomnia during pregnancy may be caused by hormonal changes or physical discomfort. As the baby grows, there is more pressure on the diaphragm. That can make breathing more difficult.

Shadowy image of pregnant womenInsomnia during pregnancy is common but there are things you can do that may help. Photo: Johan Cloete

Pregnancy insomnia could also be caused by inadequate nutrient intake, particularly in the later stages as more nutrients are being directed to the developing fetus. For example, blood levels of the omega-3 fatty acid Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) become much lower during the third trimester.

DHA is necessary for normal brain function. Low DHA levels have been associated with depression. That could be the connection between increased insomnia during pregnancy. The brain receptors responsible for regulating sleep are the same as those responsible for regulating mood. Both insomnia and pregnancy can affect the mood as a result of the effects of sleep deprivation and hormonal changes.

Some obstetricians recommend increased DHA intake as a general rule. The nutrient is found in fatty fish and some types of seafood. Supplements are available as well and could be beneficial for insomnia during pregnancy. They are generally recognized as safe. But, you should consult your doctor before taking a new supplement.

Melatonin is the hormone primarily responsible for regulating sleep. Normally, it is released in the brain as bedtime approaches. Production stops as daylight approaches. In circadian rhythm disorders, melatonin production does not begin until early in the morning.

Melatonin supplements are available over-the-counter, but their safety for treating pregnancy insomnia has not been evaluated. Prescription sleep aids are not recommended for pregnant women, because of the increased risk of birth defects.

So, what can a woman safely do about insomnia during pregnancy? Insomnia and pregnancy don't have to go together.

Physical activity can be beneficial if the woman is in good health and the doctor allows it. A cup of warm milk may actually be effective because of the protein it contains.

A small snack before bedtime is “okay”. But, eating too much late in the evening can cause nighttime heartburn and acid reflux, which is relatively common in pregnant women.

Sleeping with the head of the bed elevated may make it easier to breathe. Sleeping on your side rather than your back is another option.

Reducing the amount of light in the bedroom is helpful for pregnancy insomnia and all other types. Artificial light may interfere with the natural production of melatonin, since we know that its release is triggered by darkness.

If it takes longer than 20 minutes to fall asleep, sleep specialists recommend getting up and out of bed. You should do something quiet, dull and relaxing. Read a not-too-interesting book. Listen to soft music. Meditate or take a warm bath.

In one study concerning insomnia and pregnancy, researchers suggest that prescription antidepressants are safe treatments for severe cases. So, if the natural suggestions don’t work, talk to your doctor.

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