Sleep. Blessed/Cursed Sleep.

Sleep.  The stuff of pregnant women’s dreams.  Often elusive, and always way more complicated than it ever was, well, before, 78% of pregnant women will experience insomnia during their pregnancy.  

Along with nausea (and, okay, 78% of pregnancy’s other challenges), insomnia doesn’t make a ton of evolutionary sense.  Rest is an important thing and we need it when we’re pregnant more than ever.  What does make sense are the reasons it’s not happening.  You like to sleep on your stomach.   The glass of water you drank at 10 a.m. prompts bathroom breaks every 10 minutes. Your left hip hurts, so you switch to sleeping on your right side. Your right hip hurts.  Your legs want to move.  The little darling inside just kicked you in the ribs for the 95th time.  Your mind didn’t get the memo from your body that you are. SO. TIRED.  Did you really just dream about giving birth to a chinchilla? 

Well meaning (and always unpregnant) people may tell you to “Sleep now.  You won’t be sleeping when the baby gets here.”  While this piece of advice is almost as unhelpful as asking whether you’re sure that you’re not actually having twins, I’m hopeful that this blog post may provide sleep advice that is slightly more useful. First, though, let me reassure you that, while your child may have other plans, the sleep that you achieve post-pregnancy will be of the drool-on-the pillow, not-remember-where you are variety.   It will be glorious and deep, when your adorable baby allows it to happen.  In the meantime, here are some of my thoughts, in no particular order, about achieving just a few more minutes of sleep while your baby is still on the inside. 

  • Yoga.   I feel somewhat obliged to mention this here considering the nature of this blog.  Try ten minutes of stretching before you get into bed.  Anything that gets into your hips and hamstrings and lower back.  If forward folds don’t feel too compressive, add in a few of those.  End by lying for several minutes with your legs up the wall (use a few pillows to prop you up if lying on your back doesn’t work for you).  
  • Meditation.   After your brief yoga practice, spend a few minutes in silence.  I’ve started putting my phone in a separate room.  Its siren call is loud and it helps when there’s a door between us.  Having just said that, I also still find it difficult to meditate on my own, and guided sleep meditations abound.  Try this one, or do a google search.  Make sure that you find one you find soothing and if you fall asleep with your phone in your room, or right beside your bed, it’s totally worth it.  
  • Visualization. There’s a reason people “count sheep” to help fall asleep.  It helps our active brains have something to focus on that provides enough material to distract, but not so much that we’re actually all that interested.  Oddly, it often helps me to visualize farm animals in different colors.  I picture blue horses, purple goats, pink chickens and I usually fall asleep. Another technique involves picturing a blackboard.  With “chalk,” slowly draw the number 100.  Slowly erase it, picturing the eraser strokes, chalk dust, etc.  Write the number 99.  Repeat.  
  • Melatonin.  While no major studies have been conducted on the safety of melatonin during pregnancy, it is a naturally occurring hormone, and research does suggest that amounts up to 3 mg are completely safe.  I was (and continue to be) a huge fan.  If your insomnia challenge is waking up in the middle of the night, you might try a quick release tablet as these work quickly, and leave your system very quickly, so you won’t feel groggy when it’s time to wake up.  To boost your melatonin through diet, try tart cherry juice. Touted for an abundance of amazing properties, tart cherry juice delivers a (soothing) punch of melatonin. Foods helpful for increasing melatonin include nuts and seeds, dark, leafy vegetables, all meat, bananas, pineapple and oranges, beans, barley and brown rice.  You could also try adding some coriander to your next dinner recipe – the herb is also touted as being helpful to melatonin production.
  • Magnesium and Vitamin D.  Both helpful for sleep, Magnesium can be found in almonds, spinach, seeds, avocado, tofu, beans, bananas, and fattier fish.  So, grab a banana and some trail mix and go sit in the sun! 
  • Other herbal remedies.  If you live in the Triangle area, Suki Roth (herbalist and local treasure) makes several concoctions that help support sleep, all of which are safe to consume during pregnancy.  Weaver Street Market carries both her “Catch some ZZzs” tea blend, as well as her “Sleeptight” tincture blend.  She has other blends available on her website.  
  • All the comfort measures.   Warm baths, warm milk, warm compresses on aching body parts before you go to bed. If your hips hurt, or side sleeping is really challenging, try a snoogle.  Drink chamomile tea while your partner rubs your feet.  Read a book; one that’s interesting but not too absorbing.  And definitely not scary.  Buy super soft pajamas, invest in a noise machine (to be gifted to your little one upon their arrival), spritz lavender on your pillow and make sure that, if anyone is sharing your bed, they are well aware that your sleep is sacred.  (Don't get me started on my husband waking me up during pregnancy because I was snoring.  Snore away, my friend.  There are other sleep surfaces in your abode if anyone has an issue with it.)
  • OTC! Unisom and Benadryl are both classified as category B drugs in pregnancy, meaning that they have been proven safe in animal studies, but that sufficient human studies have not been conducted.  (Rarely are sufficient human studies conducted on any drug or supplement during pregnancy, due to the ethics (!) involved in conducting drug trials on the pregnant population) Unisom is frequently suggested (along with Vitamin B6) early in pregnancy to combat nausea.  After nausea ceases, Unisom can serve as a sleep aid.  Both can be somewhat dehydrating; if constipation is a challenge for you, limit your use of either drug and increase your water and fiber intake.  

If you're still struggling with sleep after trying all of the above (and all of the other helpful hints others have shared), talk to your care provider.  I wish you sweet dreams and deep rest.