Pregnancy and sleep

Posted on 18 December 2017

The joy of impending motherhood can give way to other sensations like fear and anxiety. And then there is the sleep disruption, something most expectant mothers know only too well.

‘Pregnancy is a time of great change,’ says Dr Irshaad Ebrahim, a Cape Town-based Neuropsychiatrist and sleep therapy specialist. ‘There are physical and emotional changes to consider during this time, and disrupted sleeping patterns are a normal side effect of this.’

It has been estimated that three out of four pregnant women suffer from some form of altered sleep. Dr Ebrahim explains that insomnia, increased sleepiness and other sleeping disorders tend to be specific to the specific stages of pregnancy.

‘Progesterone levels increase rapidly during pregnancy, particularly in the first trimester,’ he says. ‘The rise in this particular hormone tends to cause increased daytime sleepiness during this phase, where light (non-REM) sleep predominates. Physical changes can also cause some disruption of night-time sleep.’

While altered sleeping patterns tend to abate during the second trimester, it is the third and final phase of pregnancy that sees the most the most change in sleep quality and quantity.

‘It’s fair to say that almost all pregnant women will experience some form of sleep disruption during the third trimester,’ says Dr Ebrahim. ‘Physical changes are at their peak during this time. Nocturnal urination, heartburn and nasal congestion all disrupt sleep, as does lower back pain, restless leg syndrome and general discomfort associated with a marked increase in body mass. It is an extremely uncomfortable phase.’

And while lack of sleep is synonymous with the third trimester, Dr Ebrahim adds that another sleeping disorder is also fairly prevalent during the final three months before birth.

‘Some women will snore for the first time in their lives,’ he says. ‘This is fairly commonplace due to an increase in weight and tissue swelling. An obstruction in the airways can also reduce oxygen supply and thus increase inflammation. Daytime sleepiness can resurface as a result, and a diagnosis of sleep apnoea should be considered in more severe cases.’

So what are effective sleep solutions during this uncomfortable phase?

‘Try to keep daytime napping to minimum, or in the early afternoon if absolutely necessary,’ Dr Ebrahim advises. Lying on your left side can reduce snoring, and cut down on caffeine and carbohydrates wherever possible.

‘More importantly, accept that sleeping can be difficult during pregnancy – and is normal. Working around it goes a long way.’


Published in Pregnancy

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