women
Q: How does pregnancy affect sleep?
A: Pregnancy is very demanding for any woman and is a time of great sleep disruption. Many factors contribute to this: hormonal changes, the growing fetus, discomfort (vomiting, heartburn, cramps, pressure on the bladder), mood changes, and anxiety related to delivery. Some women develop sleep disorders, such as restless legs syndrome and sleep apnea, for the first time. After the birth, the new baby’s demands take precedence over the mother’s need for sleep.
Q: Do women snore more during pregnancy?
A: About 1 in 3 women will snore during pregnancy, 15–20 percent of them for the first time. If this is severe enough, it may be associated with higher blood pressure during pregnancy, and 1 in 10 pregnant snorers develop preeclampsia (high blood pressure, fluid retention, and protein in urine during pregnancy). Significant snoring during pregnancy should be assessed by a doctor.
Q: Can women develop sleep apnea during pregnancy?
A: Obese women who are pregnant and women who gain excessive weight while pregnant are at a higher risk of developing sleep apnea. A drop in blood oxygen levels at night is associated with potential complications for the baby. It is important that overweight women and women who gain a lot of weight during pregnancy should be assessed by a doctor for evidence of sleep apnea.
Q: Do women experience restless leg syndrome (RLS)during pregnancy?
A: The other major sleep disorder that can occur during pregnancy is restless legs syndrome (RLS) and leg cramp. About 15–25 percent of women develop RLS during pregnancy in association with iron deficiency and women with low folate levels are also at risk. Although RLS will end after delivery, it is an additional stressor during pregnancy and can disrupt sleep, so make sure that you have adequate iron, folate, and vitamin B12 levels in your blood before and during pregnancy.
Q: How does sleep change after delivery?
A: Up to 4 in 5 women experience “baby blues” 3 to 5 days after delivery. The blues generally don’t last longer that about 2 weeks, but 1 in 5 women develop postpartum depression. Postpartum depression can occur any time within 6 months of delivery and, like any mood disorder, it can result in severe sleep disruption.

Improving sleep during pregnancy

  • Ensure that you have a high intake of folate, iron, and vitamin B12 before and during pregnancy.

  • Exercise regularly and control weight.

  • Keep fluid intake high, but try to cut down before bedtime to ease the stress on your bladder.

  • If heartburn is a problem, sleep with the head of your bed elevated, or use a few pillows.

  • Eating small meals during the day and avoiding spicy, fatty, or fried food may reduce acid reflux and help with nausea, especially in the first trimester.

  • Schedule naps during the day, to help with daytime fatigue.

  • As your pregnancy progresses, adjust your bedding accordingly. Special pregnancy pillows and support pillows may make sleeping more comfortable.

  • In the third trimester, try to sleep on your left side (rather than your back) to allow for improved blood flow to the fetus, uterus, and kidneys.

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