Identifying Sleep Disorders
Pregnancy is hard enough without feeling like a walking zombie. In this article we talk about sleep disorders you may experience throughout your pregnancy and tips to help you catch some zzz’s.
Everybody tells you to catch up on sleep before your babe makes their grand entrance, but what happens when you run (er..waddle?) into sleeping problems?
According to a study by National Sleep in 2007, 79% of pregnant women suffer from sleep disorders. Here are some sleep problems you should look out for:
In this article:
- Sleep Apnea
- Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)
- Nocturnal gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Heavy snoring
- Sleep paralysis
- Anxiety, night terrors, and night time anxiety
- Sleep walking
Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder pregnant women encounter. It may start as early as the first trimester and last until you deliver. You may experience difficulty falling and staying asleep, feeling unrefreshed when you wake up, and waking up too early.
Causes of insomnia include:
- Hormonal changes
- Leg cramps
- Pre-birth anxiety
- Difficulty getting comfortable
Sleep apnea is a disorder where breathing is interrupted during sleep. Chronic snoring is often an indicator of sleep apnea followed by long pauses, and then gasping or choking while sleeping. The two most common risk factors are being overweight or of an older age.
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)
Restless leg syndrome affects approximately 26% of pregnant women. Symptoms of RLS include creepy, tingly, or achy feelings in your legs. These symptoms get worse at night or right before bed but can be relieved temporarily by stretching.
If your RLS symptoms get too annoying, asking your doctor to check for an iron deficiency may be key. In many cases, iron supplements have been enough to correct restless leg syndrome.
Nocturnal gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
GERD, aka reflux or heartburn, occurs in 30-50% of all pregnant women. Unfortunately, heartburn is common throughout pregnancy because the hormones cause the digestive system to slow down.
Another reason would be as the uterus grows, it pushes on the stomach, which can force stomach acid into your esophagus.
To help the symptoms of GERD, you can take over-the-counter antacids. A few other things you can do to help prevent or suppress the symptoms are:
- Eat several small means instead of 2-3 large meals.
- Wait two hours before laying down after eating.
- Avoid chocolate and mint (especially mint chocolate chip ice cream) because they relax the valve between your esophagus and stomach.
- Pay attention to if certain foods make your symptoms worse.
- Try sleeping on an incline by putting your bed frame on blocks or adding a foam wedge under the head of your mattress.
(Not so) Fun Fact: Pregnancy causes your nasal passages to swell. Couple that with the extra weight from the pregnancy, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for those late-night snores. If you find you can’t sleep because of snoring, try nasal strips to help open your nasal passages (your partner will thank you).
If you’re snoring gets too intense and/or you find yourself waking up gasping for air or choking, talk to your doctor. You may have developed sleep apnea and could require a CPAP machine.
Sleep paralysis is something that happens when you’re either waking up or falling asleep and can be really scary when it happens, especially the first time. During sleep paralysis, your mind is aware but you can’t move your body. You may also feel like there’s an intruder, see and hear things that aren’t really there, or experience a sensation of something pressing on your chest.
The National Sleep Foundation explains “During sleep paralysis, your body begins to go through the relaxation process but your mind is awake enough to notice that is no longer controlling your ability to move or speak...Sleep paralysis can also occur when you are in the process of waking up. In this case, your mind regains consciousness before your REM sleep cycle is finished. During REM sleep, your body is relaxed and your muscles are “turned off” so that you don’t physically act out your vivid dreams. Waking up before the last stage of REM sleep is complete can cause you to hyperventilate and hallucinate, as well as make it seem as though you are unable to move your body. Fortunately, sleep paralysis is temporary and typically lasts just a few seconds.”
The causes behind sleep paralysis are lack of sleep, depression, anxiety, and hormone changes.
Anxiety, night terrors, and night time anxiety
Having a baby is terrifying. There’s so much to do, and too little time to do it. Plus, you can’t stop going through lists of baby names in your head and you still haven’t quite figured out how you’re going to push an entire human out of a very small hole.
For some reason, as soon as your head hits the pillow, your mind picks up speed. Suddenly, you keenly aware of all the things that need to be done. Refrain from pulling out your phone or watching TV.
Instead, try taking a warm shower or bath or grab a book or magazine to clear your head. Doing something that relaxes you (and isn’t pregnancy related) will help calm your mind long enough to fall asleep and stay asleep (and keep those nightmares at bay).
If you find yourself sleepwalking once you become pregnant, you aren’t alone. Sleepwalking can be triggered by hormonal changes, sleep deprivation, and emotional stress (aka pregnancy).
Most sleepwalkers end up wandering aimlessly throughout their home, cooking or eating food, or doing other random household chores. Most times, the sleepwalker wakes up abruptly or returns to their bed none-the-wiser.
It’s rare that a sleepwalker experiences injury or causes injury to others. If you suspect that you’ve begun sleepwalking, talk to your doctor and partner about how to make sure you’re as safe as possible during your nightly ventures.
So not only do you have to deal with an ever-expanding stomach, kicks and headbutts to your ribs and hips, and rollercoaster hormones, but it’s also likely that you’ll find yourself uncomfortably awake (or not) at random hours of the night.
Luckily, we have few tried and true tips to get you sleeping like a baby before your babe makes its appearance.
National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, Management of Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Pregnancy, 2018.
National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, Insomnia during pregnancy: Diagnosis and Rational Interventions, 2016.
National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, Nightmare frequency in last trimester of pregnancy, 2016.
National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, Snoring during pregnancy and its relation to sleepiness and pregnancy outcome - a prospective study, 2014.
National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, Treatment of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease During Pregnancy, 2012.
National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, Sleep disorders in pregnancy, 2009.
National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, Restless legs syndrome and pregnancy, 2004.
National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, Sleepwalking disorder during pregnancy: a case report, 1988.
- Emily Rader