Pregnancy affects many parts of your life – from your ability to put on socks and tie your own shoelaces, to being able to go more than an hour without going to the toilet. Sleeping is another thing that changes. Pregnancy brings with it a whole host of extra impediments to a good nights rest, from a smaller bladder, an increased heart rate, shortness of breath, cramps, achey backs, heartburn – the list goes on. But one thing that troubles most, is finding a comfortable position to sleep in.
This week we’re looking at what positions are recommended, why you should avoid sleeping on your back after a certain point in your pregnancy and some tips to help you get a better nights sleep.
Great sleep has a myriad of positive benefits – it helps us live longer, enhances our memory, makes us more creative and more attractive, helps keep us slim, lowers food cravings, protects us from cancer and dementia, wards off colds and the flu, lowers the risk of heart attacks, strokes and diabetes. It makes us feel happier, less depressed and less anxious.
Never is sleep more important than when your body is creating an entirely new little human being. Sleeping whilst pregnant can be a tricky thing for many, especially during the latter stages.
In the early months of pregnancy, there are few physical changes that make you alter your sleeping positions, but that soon changes once your bump arrives.
For those expectant mums that spend their nights in eternal tummy time, the arrival of the bump can cause a big upheaval. For those who sleep on their back, 28 weeks is the point that many recommend you change position. Yet, for those women that lie on their sides, the change will be less dramatic.
Lying on your front becomes near impossible for most after their bump grows beyond a certain size. Unless you’re prepared to cut a hole in your bed or sleep on a Lilo made for pregnant women, you’re going to have to adjust to another sleep position.
Lying on your back in the first trimester isn’t considered an issue. But, after that, it is often recommended to be avoided and the NHS suggests you should avoid lying on your back after 28 weeks. The reason for this recommendation is because of where the extra weight of your baby and uterus rests.
As we know from week 134, pregnancy can cause up to a 50% increase in blood volume. Lying on your back can restrict the flow of this blood because it places this extra weight on a major vein, called the inferior vena cava, that carries blood back to the heart from your lower body.
When on your back, this weight also sits on the intestines, can aggravate backaches, interfere with circulation and possibly cause hypotension (AKA low blood pressure) that can cause lightheadedness. The less-than-optimal circulation that can be caused by lying on your back is also thought to reduce blood flow to the baby. Because of this lower blood flow, it’s thought the number of nutrients a baby receives could be reduced, which could, therefore, affect a baby’s growth.
Sleeping on your side is considered the best position to sleep in during pregnancy – with knees and legs bent – preferably with a pillow between them. Lying on your left is the preferred side and, unsurprisingly, tends to be the position that many pregnant women naturally adopt. There is little evidence to show that sleeping on your left or right is better, but, there are a few physiological differences that support a preference for sleeping on your left.
Your liver is located on the right side of your body and is one of your most important organs. It is responsible for filtering our blood from the digestive tract, storing iron, vitamins and essential chemicals, for making enzymes and proteins, for detoxifying chemicals, for metabolising drugs and many more things besides. A squeezed liver can be painful and this can happen when a pregnant woman lies on her right. It’s thought that lying on your right side puts unnecessary pressure on this crucial organ and may even inhibit its ability to function properly.
Organisations like the American Pregnancy Association recommend you sleep on your left because it will “…increase the amount of blood and nutrients that reach the placenta…”.
Sleeping on your left has also been shown to enhance kidney function, which means a better elimination of waste products and less swelling in your hands, feet and ankles.
The truth is, simple physiological restrictions are going to dictate what’s best for you, and lying on either side is most likely to be the most comfortable. But, for those of you that still struggle, here are a few tips for better nights sleep:
- Remember to keep the caffeine low or cut it completely. Caffeine has a half-life of 6 hours. That means that 6 hours after your cup of tea or coffee, half of the caffeine will still be coursing through your system.
- Eat at least 2 hours before bed. Eating large meals before bed can interrupt sleep. Leaving adequate time can reduce heartburn and aid in beneficial hormone production.
- Stick to a regular routine. A regular routine is critical to aiding your circadian rhythm – your body’s internal timing of night and day.
- Keep active with regular light exercise. Find your local pregnancy yoga classes or if you’re local you could join Bev for aquanatal yoga. Check out week 106 for why exercise in pregnancy is so important.
- Address any anxiety and fear around your pregnancy and birth. Talk to friends, family or your midwife. You could also find your local Positive Birth Movement meet up or find birth educators that understand the importance of fear release.
- For those of you that get legs cramps, see your doctor to have your magnesium and calcium levels checked.
If you wake up on your back, there’s little need for worry. It’s more than likely the reason you woke. You’ll end up in all sorts of positions whilst you sleep. Make sure you start on your side and if you wake up in a different one, just move back onto your side. Experiment with pillows under your abdomen and in between your legs and take a look at the myriad of pregnancy pillows that are available.
Whichever side you sleep on, we wish you a great night’s sleep. We’d love to know how you conquered sleep during your pregnancy, please let us know in the comments.