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Common Pregnancy Sleep Problems

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Schlette, MSN, RN
Updated
Pro tips for overcoming the most common pregnancy sleep problems.

Women face a lot of sleep issues when they’re pregnant. And it’s not like some women only get one — most will suffer from several before they’re being wheeled into the delivery room.

In this guide, we will explain 15 of the most common problems that affect your sleep quality during pregnancy.


Pregnancy Sleep Problems & Solutions

1. Sleep Disordered Breathing (SDB)

Sleep Disordered Breathing is a range of breathing problems that could be as simple as snoring or as complicated as obstructive sleep apnea.

When it kicks in: It usually shows up toward the later part of the second trimester and stays until delivery.

Possible causes: There are several possible causes, including obesity, face or throat changes, the extra hormones you have during pregnancy, smoking, and not getting enough sleep.

How it can affect your pregnancy: It can increase the odds you’ll have high blood pressure in pregnancy, preeclampsia, depression, and gestational diabetes.

What you can do about it: You can watch your weight to ensure you don’t gain too much during pregnancy. You can also skip the caffeine, take a morning nap, use saline washes in your nose to help with nasal congestion, or use breathing strips. Also, remember not to sleep on your back (1).

2. Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless leg syndrome is when you feel the need to move your legs because they have burning, tingling, or crawling feelings. As many as 16 percent of pregnant women suffer from this (2). It can also happen to your arms and hands too.

When it kicks in: Whenever you’re at rest, and the worst of it hits between the 7th and 8th months of pregnancy. It tends to vanish within a month or so after delivery.

Possible causes: Scientists haven’t pinpointed its cause yet.

How it can affect your pregnancy: While it is nothing to be worried about, restless leg syndrome can make you lose sleep during pregnancy.

What you can do about it: Stay away from caffeine, stretch your legs, and don’t lay down until you’re ready to go to sleep (3).

3. Leg Cramps

Leg cramps are when your calf or foot, or possibly both, seize up from a muscle contraction. They can be enormously painful.

When it kicks in: Usually at night, mainly in the second and third trimesters.

Possible causes: No one really knows for certain why they happen.

How it can affect your pregnancy: It won’t hurt your baby, but it can sure cause you a lot of discomfort. When they happen at night, they can make you lose sleep.

What you can do about it: Stretching your calf muscles several times a day may help. Activity, such as talking walks, might help too — but remember to wear comfortable shoes. You can also try wearing compression socks to see if they help. Make sure you’re drinking enough water and eating magnesium-rich foods, like bananas, nuts, and whole grains (4).

4. Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a disorder where people have difficulty controlling their periods of sleep and wakefulness. People who suffer from this may be extremely sleepy during the day and can’t stop themselves from falling asleep.

When it kicks in: Women who have narcolepsy will find it remains with them throughout their pregnancy and gets worse in about one-third of the cases.

Possible causes: Narcolepsy is believed to be caused when a person has too little hypocretin, which is a brain chemical that controls sleep.

How it can affect your pregnancy: Narcolepsy can be quite dangerous for pregnant women and their babies. The medications used to help with narcolepsy may not be safe for fetuses. And even daily tasks like driving may present a danger. Never stop your medication without speaking to your doctor.

What you can do about it: If you find you can’t regulate your narcolepsy while pregnant, or you’re one of the unlucky ones who has worsening symptoms, you may need to be placed on medical leave until you have your baby. That way you’ll be able to get the sleep you need.

5. Pregnancy Insomnia

Pregnancy insomnia is not getting enough sleep or having a poor quality of sleep. It’s a common pregnancy-related ailment, affecting almost 80 percent of expectant moms (5).

When it kicks in: Insomnia can happen in any or all trimesters of your pregnancy.

Possible causes: There are many reasons you might by plagued by insomnia, including hormones, unsettling dreams, nerves, anxiety, frequent bathroom breaks, heartburn, and back and pelvic pain, as well as general discomfort.

How it can affect your pregnancy: Insomnia can make you feel tired all the time, stressed out, and anxious. Plus, not having enough sleep can impact your immune system as well, making you susceptible to minor illnesses.

What you can do about it: Daily exercise can help, as can trying out different positions while sleeping. Warm baths and massages can also do the trick. Try some relaxation techniques and make sure the temperature is comfortable for you.

6. Heartburn

Heartburn is a burning feeling you can get in your chest and even throat from acid bubbling up into the esophagus.

When it kicks in: It can start at any point, but for many women, it’s worse in the second and third trimesters.

Possible causes: With your growing baby taking up more of your stomach, the acid can get forced up into your esophagus. Also, progesterone, a pregnancy hormone, is a suspected culprit as well. Progesterone is known to slow your gastrointestinal tract, which can lead to heartburn.

How it can affect your pregnancy: It can be painful and may keep you up at night.

What you can do about it: There are several things you can do to combat heartburn:

  • Try eating mini-meals instead of bigger ones.
  • Eat slowly because it may stop you from overeating.
  • Don’t recline back after meals, which means you shouldn’t go to bed right after eating.
  • Avoid tight clothing.
  • Stay away from foods that give you worse heartburn.
  • Prop your head and chest up at night.

7. Frequent Urination

It’s not just your imagination — you will have to pee more during pregnancy.

When it kicks in: You’ll notice it the worst during the first four months. And you’ll also notice it more during the last trimester.

Possible causes: In late pregnancy, your fetus will put pressure on your bladder, causing you to pee more. In early pregnancy, you can thank the extra blood flow which causes your kidneys to produce more urine.

How it can affect your pregnancy: You’re going to need to know where the bathrooms are wherever you go in late pregnancy. In addition, your sleep is going to be interrupted by frequent nighttime bathroom breaks.

What you can do about it: Staying away from soda, tea, and coffee should help some. In the hour before bed, drink a few sips of water, but not a whole glass — unless you’re dehydrated, then you should drink up and worry about the bathroom later.

8. Nasal Congestion/Snoring

This is when you start to snore during pregnancy, even if you’ve never been a snorer before.

When it kicks in: Second or third trimester as you begin to gain weight.

Possible causes: Gaining weight is one cause. Another cause is beyond your control. With extra blood circulating while you’re pregnant, it can cause the blood vessels in your nose to swell, causing extra nasal congestion. Pregnancy hormones also can lead to more nasal congestion.

How it can affect your pregnancy: You might wake yourself up by snoring.

What you can do about it: Don’t gain more weight than your doctor recommends, and use saline nasal washes or breathing strips while sleeping.

9. Baby Movement

This is one of the most fun times during pregnancy — when you get to feel your baby move. But feeling your baby kick you repeatedly while you’re trying to sleep will keep you up at night.

When it kicks in: You should first feel your baby move between the 16th and 25th week of your pregnancy. After that, you’ll feel it happening multiple times a day, every day.

Possible causes: Baby movement is totally normal and is the sign of a healthy pregnancy.

How it can affect your pregnancy: You might have such an active baby at night that you’ll lose sleep whenever you feel them kick hard or do somersaults in your belly.

What you can do about it: There’s not much you can do, other than use it as a chance to reassure yourself your baby is doing just fine in there.

10. Stress

We all know what stress is. And pregnancy is a happy time for most women, but it definitely comes with a lot of stress at times.

When it kicks in: You may find yourself stressed out from the moment you find out you’re pregnant until the time you hold your beautiful baby in your arms.

Possible causes: You might be stressed because of your worries, doctor visits, your job, money, the strain of eating healthy, minor illnesses, and even over your changing body.

How it can affect your pregnancy: Stress can be really hard on you and your baby. It can make you more likely to have a premature baby or a baby that weighs less than 5 and a half pounds (6).

What can you do about it: Talk to a friend or professional about your stress. Remove as much from your schedule as you feel you need to. Keep up with regular exercise and relaxation activities, like yoga.

11. Night Waking

Night waking is when you wake up during the night while you’re pregnant. And be prepared for it to happen more than once per night. A majority of women wake up at least five times a night during their pregnancy (7).

When it kicks in: This happens mostly in the third trimester.

Possible causes: You might find yourself waking from aches and pains, being unable to find a comfortable position, from your baby kicking, or frequent bathroom breaks.

How it can affect your pregnancy: It can impact you severely because you’re not getting the sleep cycles you need. You’ll feel tremendously tired and grumpy from frequent night waking.

What you can do about it: Experiment with body pillows to help take some of the strain off of your lower back. Another thing that might help is laying off the liquids an hour before bedtime.

12. Discomfort With Body Changes

Some women are bothered by body changes during pregnancy in two ways — they can be physically uncomfortable and they can worry about their appearance as well.

When it kicks in: The third trimester can be the hardest time for body changes.

Possible causes: As your body keeps growing, you’re going to have a whole new set of aches and pains to worry about. And watching that skin stretching can have you wondering how many stretch marks you’ll have to contend with after pregnancy.

How it can affect your pregnancy: The physical pain from the body changes can make you lose sleep at night and may make you feel like not moving around at all. The worry about how you’ll look during and after pregnancy will lead to unnecessary stress.

What you can do about it: When you’re worried about your appearance, realize it will all be worth it when you’re holding your precious baby. As for the aches and pains, look for a body pillow or ask your partner to do his share by giving you a massage.

13. Nausea

Nausea during pregnancy is common and can impact the quality of your sleep.

When it kicks in: The first trimester is the worst when it comes to nausea because of morning sickness.

Possible causes: It’s caused by increasing hormones.

How it can affect your pregnancy: It can make it difficult to sleep and eat.

What you can do about it: Eat small meals, eat crackers if you can’t tolerate anything else, try to nap whenever you can, and drink fluids before or after meals to prevent being overfull. Open windows to get fresh, cool air if you need it. Ginger can also be great for nausea. If nausea persists and it is severely impacting your life despite these remedies, you should talk to your doctor because you may need to be started on medication.

14. Back Pain

Pregnancy can cause all kinds of aches and stabbing pains in your back, particularly the lower back.

When it kicks in: Back pain usually strikes women during the second half of their pregnancies.

Possible causes: There are several reasons you’ll have back pain, including muscle separation, hormones, extra weight, and changes in your posture.

How it can affect your pregnancy: You’re going to find it a lot harder to sleep when your back pain is at its worst.

What you can do about it: To fight back pain, get regular exercise, work on your posture, and use hot or cold compresses as needed. Some women also like to have chiropractic care while pregnant.

15. Troubling Dreams

These are the strange, vivid dreams you have while you’re pregnant — they can range from nightmares to sex dreams.

When it kicks in: They can happen at any time during your pregnancy.

Possible causes: While doctors can’t say for certain what causes these weird dreams to manifest, it may be a response to your rapidly-changing body and the stresses you’re facing. But it may also be because you spend more time in rapid eye movement sleep because of your changing sleep patterns (8).

How it can affect your pregnancy: You may wonder what the heck is going on after some downright bizarre dreams. But don’t worry — this is totally normal. Some dreams may be so unsettling you’ll have a hard time getting back to sleep.

What you can do about it: Buckle up and enjoy the ride. Hopefully, you’ll have only a few nightmares and more of the vivid sex dreams.

Here are some common pregnancy dreams and what they mean:

  • Sex dreams: These are one of the most common types of dreams women have while pregnant — they likely may feature men other than their partners. It may be because of additional blood flow to your breasts and groin during pregnancy, as well as the increase in estrogen levels.
  • Gender reveal dreams: If you dream about finding out which gender your baby is, it’s just because you’re thinking about it in real life too. It may also be because you secretly want one gender or the other.
  • Childbirth dreams: Childbirth is going to be on your mind, so it stands to reason you’ll dream about it as well. It may be because you’re worried about it or you can’t wait to finally meet your baby (9).
  • Forgetting your baby dreams: Being a parent will be a huge responsibility and that can manifest in your dreams if you have dreams about forgetting your baby somewhere. You just might be worried you aren’t ready to be a parent.
Headshot of Jennifer Schlette, MSN, RN

Medically Reviewed by

Jennifer Schlette, MSN, RN

Jennifer Schlette MSN, RN, is a pediatric intensive care nurse at Children's Hospital of New York for the past 14 years. Jennifer also has extensive experience teaching Maternity and Obstetric Nursing, as well as Pediatrics Nursing.

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