One day in 2007, Arianna Huffington collapsed from exhaustion on the floor of her office. The Huffington Post Media Group founder and Editor-in-Chief broke her cheekbone as a result of the fall—a collapse that resulted from working regular 18-hour days. The experience, which doctors linked directly to sleep deprivation, led her to write “The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time”, a comprehensive, scientifically rigorous, and personal look at sleep.
Arianna’s hypothesis is that most societies believe that productivity brings success and, with ubiquitous technology that allows us to be connected 24/7, this is causing a worldwide sleep crisis epidemic. The book includes recommendations for an initiative named The Sleep Revolution and goes as far as predicting that nap rooms in offices are going to be “as common as conference rooms” in the next two years.
Let’s take a look at how sleep -or lack of it- affects pregnant women.
The hormone progesterone increases during the first trimester of pregnancy causing a more intense feeling of sleepiness. However, even as the progesterone levels decrease, sleepiness can extend to the entire pregnancy. In fact, according to a 2014 study, a whopping three in four women experience sleep problems at various points during pregnancy. The most common reported reason is the increasing size of the fetus, which can make it hard for the mom to find a comfortable sleeping position. Sleeping on the side (left side, if possible), as doctors recommend, is difficult for many women. Also, shifting around in bed becomes more cumbersome as the pregnancy progresses.
Other common physical symptoms that may interfere with your sleep are:
- The frequent urge to urinate: This happens because your kidneys have to filter an increased volume of blood (up to 50% more than before pregnancy) moving through your body. This filtering process results in more urine. Also, in the third trimester, as the fetus grows and your uterus gets larger, the pressure on your bladder increases.
What you can do about it: Drink plenty of liquids throughout the day until two hours before your bedtime.
- Increased heart rate: Your heart rate increases during pregnancy to pump more blood, and as more of your blood supply goes to the uterus, your heart will be working harder to send sufficient blood to the rest of your body. Normal heart rate prior to pregnancy is anywhere between 60 and 100 beats per minute. During pregnancy, the heart rate may increase by 10-20 beats per minute.
What you can do about it: Lay down and relax. Try to keep your mind off it by watching TV or listening to music.
- Shortness of breath: In the first trimester, your breathing may be affected by the increase in pregnancy hormones. Later on, breathing can feel more difficult as your enlarging uterus takes up more space, resulting in pressure against the diaphragm.
What you can do about it: Stand as straight as you can. Proper posture gives your lungs a little more room to breathe. Sleep propped up on your left side. Try to relax, as mentioned above.
- Leg cramps and backaches: Leg cramps happen because of compression of blood vessels in your legs and fatigue of carrying the extra pregnancy weight. Aches may be due to the extra weight you are carrying or from not being able to find a comfortable position to sleep in. During pregnancy, your body also produces the hormone relaxin, which helps you prepare for childbirth. One of the effects of relaxin is the loosening of ligaments throughout your body, making you less stable and more prone to injury, especially in your back.
What you can do about it: To minimize leg cramps, increase your intake of calcium and magnesium via diet. Drink plenty of water, stretch your legs during the day and wear support stockings. If these do not work after some time, it’s important that you check with your health care provider (to exclude the possibility that the cramp may actually be a blood clot). To reduce aches, sleep on your side —left side, if possible. Use pillows wherever they help: between your knees, under your abdomen, behind your back.
- Heartburn and constipation: During pregnancy, hormonal changes make your entire digestive system slow down and food tends to remain in your stomach and intestines longer, which may cause you heartburn or constipation. These could get worse later on in the pregnancy when your growing uterus presses on the stomach or the large intestine.
What you can do about it: Avoid triggers that increase the risk of heartburn. Don’t smoke, watch your weight, eat slowly, don’t eat spicy foods, and don’t eat immediately before laying down. Over-the-counter medications, including proton-pump inhibitors, are fine with your doctor’s approval. Constipation may be eased or prevented by eating high fiber foods, drinking plenty of water, and exercising regularly.
Studies have found that not getting enough sleep during pregnancy could affect you more than simply feeling irritable and exhausted during the day, and having poor concentration. One study found that first-time mothers who got less than six hours of sleep at night were 4.5 times more likely to have a C-section, and their average length of labor was 10 hours or longer compared with first-time mothers who slept seven hours or more.
Arianna Huffington’s Sleep Revolution may not specifically address the special physical and hormonal circumstances of pregnant mothers. However, some of the recommendations she has can be useful. Perhaps, you are already following one of them (such as nap whenever you can!). And tonight, as you step into your bedroom, turn off your phone, relax, and disconnect…
Do you have problems sleeping? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.
You may also want to read the following related post in Pregistry’s blog: Catching Zzzzs While You’re Pregnant.