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Sleep problems while pregnant?

Sleep does a body good. Not getting enough — and more than a third of adults get less than the recommended seven hours — is tied to diseases including diabetes, heart disease, obesity and depression.

But where does that leave a pregnant woman, especially during her swollen, achy third trimester?

Sleep expert Dr. Ryan Donald, an Ohio State Wexner Medical Center assistant clinical professor, offers some explanations for those restless pregnancy nights — and a few tips for more meaningful slumber.

Is sleep for pregnant women more challenging?

Sleep during pregnancy, especially during later pregnancy, definitely tends to be worse for many women. It can often be associated with fragmentation of sleep. It increases awakenings at night, and for longer periods. Pregnant women also tend to have greater amounts of light sleep and less deep sleep.

What are the reasons for this?

Nocturia — the increased need to use the restroom at night — can disrupt sleep. Women during pregnancy can also have worse gastroesophageal reflux disease or heartburn, which sometimes can disrupt sleep. Plus, there’s anxiety associated with sleep.

Other reasons include increased tendency toward lower back pain and physical limitations such as difficulty finding a comfortable position, especially for women who prefer to sleep on their stomach.

Women are also more prone to have restless leg syndrome during pregnancy. And there’s increased susceptibility to sleep apnea where the airway collapses at night — more common in women who have obesity.  

What are the best sleep positions during pregnancy?

I definitely recommend side sleep. If you can, sleep on your left side. It’s thought to give better blood flow to the fetus. Avoid stomach sleep to avoid putting pressure on the uterus.

Are there any other triggers that pregnant women should avoid?

It depends on the issue. If women are waking up to heartburn, they should avoid heartburn-inducing food and drinks, especially those that contain caffeine. There are limits on caffeine intake for fetuses in general, but caffeine can cause sleep disruption and make it more difficult to fall asleep in addition to worsening heartburn. Mints, chocolate and spicy foods can also cause increased risk of heartburn for women who are prone to it.

Pregnant women should also avoid excessive weight gain to prevent the risk of developing sleep-disordered breathing or sleep apnea.

Are there any other tips you recommend for sound sleep?

We generally recommend the following good sleep habits for everybody: Avoid lights at night. This includes handheld electronics such as cell phones, tablets and laptops. Avoid eating before bed, which will help prevent heartburn. And sleep in a dark, quiet environment.