Common Sleep Disturbances in Pregnancy and How to Manage Them
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Common Sleep Disturbances in Pregnancy and How to Manage Them

Adequate sleep is important during pregnancy. Often, though, common sleep disturbances can keep pregnant mamas awake. Here's how to deal.

Published May 18, 2021

by Rachel Mitchell

Pediatric and Maternity Sleep Consultant

Most parents are prepared to deal with the sleep deprivation that comes with having a newborn. But what many don’t realize is that many sleep disturbances actually start in pregnancy. I often hear pregnant women joke that it is their body’s way of preparing them for exhaustion before the baby comes. In all seriousness, lack of sleep during pregnancy can be an issue that should be taken seriously.

Pregnant women exert a lot of energy throughout the day just by growing a human inside of them. Then add everything else that takes more energy to do during pregnancy (like tying your shoes). Some studies have found that women operate at 2.2 times their normal BMR during pregnancy, which is almost the maximum amount possible.1 Needless to say, pregnant women need to get adequate rest! Unfortunately, many sleep disturbances that occur during pregnancy prevent women from doing this.

5 Most Common Sleep Disturbances in Pregnancy

Inability to get comfortable.

Whether it is morning sickness in the first trimester or a growing belly in the second and third trimester, finding a comfortable position for sleep is challenging during pregnancy.

What to do: Use pillows to support you. Many different types of pillows can help provide knee, back, and hip support. You can find pillows suitable during pregnancy from full-body pillows to sectional type pillows, which are designed to relieve pressure and support your joints. In addition, some pillows can help keep you in a side-lying position a bit more easily.

Restless leg syndrome.

Restless leg syndrome is common.2 But it can also be unexpected for many women. Most women describe this syndrome as a feeling of constantly needing to move their legs or experiencing heaviness and itching in their legs. This is enough to keep you up all night.

What can you do: Increase iron and calcium intake and make sure you are getting enough folate in your diet. These seem to be linked with RLS. In addition, other foods can sometimes trigger RLS, like caffeine too close to bedtime, which you want to limit anyway during pregnancy.


Ah, heartburn. The pregnancy symptom that seems to show up at any point in your pregnancy, often no matter what you eat! Many studies show that up to 30-80% of pregnant women experience heartburn at some point in their pregnancy.3 This can make sleeping comfortably seem impossible.

What to do: Try eating smaller meals throughout the day, especially before bed. Avoid foods that are overly spicy, citrusy, or greasy. Try elevating your head when you sleep rather than sleeping flat on your back (which you don’t want to do in the second/third trimester anyway).

Frequent night wakings.

Pregnant women often experience disruption in their sleep cycles which leads to less restorative sleep. Sometimes this is due to a change in hormones. Sometimes, your baby is pushing on your bladder, so you need to get up and use the bathroom more frequently. And sometimes, it is simply because you cannot shut off your mind due to anxiety or anticipation of your baby’s arrival. Whatever the reason, it can be frustrating when you wake up multiple times per night and can’t fall back asleep.

What to do: Do your best to go to sleep at an appropriate time at night. Typically between 8-9:30 pm. Adults often stay up far past their natural sleep window. This can trigger both cortisol and adrenaline, causing melatonin (your sleepy hormone) to be suppressed. You also want to try to prepare a calming routine before bed. And avoid electronics at least 1-1.5 hours before bedtime and definitely during the middle of the night. To avoid getting up too frequently to use the bathroom, try limiting liquids to just sips of fluid in the evening. Aim to get the majority of your fluid intake during the day. 

Obstructive sleep apnea.

Some pregnant women may experience obstructive sleep apnea during pregnancy. This is when your breathing stops and starts, depriving your body of oxygen and often leading to snoring and gasping for air.4 While there are many causes of sleep apnea, sometimes during pregnancy, this can develop due to weight gain. This is due to the extra pressure being put on your airways from tissue/excess weight.

What to do: This can be a potentially serious issue. It is always recommended to speak with your medical provider and explain your symptoms and concerns. Often OSA can be treated with lifestyle changes such as exercise and healthy eating to prevent excess weight gain. But obviously, weight gain is a part of pregnancy! Your doctor should be able to tell you if they are concerned about this. Sleeping on your side can also help with OSA. We recommend doing anyway once you enter the second trimester!

Getting adequate sleep during pregnancy is important for your own physical and mental health and the health of your baby. Whether you are experiencing any of the issues listed or other sleep-related issues, it is important to speak with your medical provider if you aren’t getting the sleep you need. You may also consider working with a maternity sleep consultant that can help guide you through any of the challenges you may be experiencing and help you get some much-needed rest as you prepare for the arrival of your little one!

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Rachel Mitchell Pediatric and Maternity Sleep Consultant
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Rachel Mitchell is a certified maternity and pediatric sleep specialist, parent educator, and mom of six. Her mission is to help parents and families thrive. She gives parents the skills… Read more

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