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Sleep trouble isn’t inevitable during pregnancy

Pregnancy doesn't have to mean nine months of sleep deprivation, a noted sleep expert says.
/ Source: Reuters

Pregnancy doesn't have to mean nine months of sleep deprivation, a noted sleep expert says.

Myriad factors can disturb sleep throughout pregnancy, from getting up at night to urinate to trying to accommodate a giant belly comfortably, Dr. Jodi A. Mindell, associate director of the Sleep Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, told Reuters Health. However, she added, "almost all of those things you can manage at some level."

And getting enough sleep is important for an expectant mother's health, as well as that of her fetus, added Mindell, whose book "Sleep Deprived No More: From Pregnancy to Early Motherhood," will be published Nov. 15.

She points to a study that found women who got less than six hours of sleep a night for their last month of pregnancy had longer labors (29 hours versus 18 hours) and a greater risk of having a C-section compared to women who logged at least seven hours of sleep nightly.

Mindell is a spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, which is seeking to increase awareness of the importance of sleep for pregnant woman as part of its National Campaign for Healthier Babies Month this October.

She offers several tips for pregnant women to help battle sleep troubles:

  • Get daily fluid requirements before dinner to prevent frequent nighttime bathroom trips.
  • Eat a snack before bedtime to stave off nighttime hunger and nausea.
  • Use plenty of pillows to get comfortable in bed; a pillow to support the belly and another between the legs to support the hips can help.
  • Stay away from caffeine after lunchtime
  • Use good sleep hygiene — have a soothing pre-bedtime ritual, make the bedroom a comfortable haven for sleep, and try to keep a consistent sleep schedule.

One in four women will develop restless legs syndrome during pregnancy, noted Mindell, which is "a very uncomfortable, creepy crawly feeling in the legs" that can only be alleviated by moving them around. The syndrome can be related to iron deficiency, which becomes increasingly common after 20 weeks of pregnancy, so women who are experiencing it should get their iron levels checked, she advised.

Getting enough sleep after baby is born is essential, too, but more difficult, especially in the first six weeks of an infant's life, says Mindell. New moms should follow the time-honored advice to sleep when their baby does, and should get all the help they can, she adds. Being sure to get outdoors into bright light, especially in the morning, can also help new moms sleep better, according to Mindell.

"You've got to make sleep a priority — you really need to put aside those visions you have of being the perfect new mom with the perfectly clean house and gourmet meals on the table," she said.