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How to Improve Sleep in Each Trimester

There are many physiological changes that occur during the course of pregnancy. In fact, pregnancy has widespread effects on just about every one of the body’s systems. Increased demand is put on the body, and the cardiovascular, respiratory, immune, gastrointestinal, nervous, endocrine, urinary, and musculoskeletal systems all adapt to meet it. 

The cardiovascular system works overtime to support this demand. Even in the first eight weeks, there is a 20% increase in cardiac output. By the third trimester, cardiac output can increase as much as 50%. Additionally, there is a significant rise in heart rate and notable changes in blood pressure and blood volume during each trimester. 

To meet elevated needs for oxygen, the respiratory rate and tidal volume (the amount of air in your lungs) increase. The endocrine system kicks into high gear, signaling for excess production of estrogen and progesterone to drive growth and development. The organs of the gastrointestinal system shift to make room for the growing uterus. 

Given how hard the body is working throughout pregnancy, one of the most important things you can do is focus on good quality sleep to promote a healthy pregnancy. Read on to find out why prioritizing sleep is so important.  

Why Sleep During Pregnancy Is Important

Regularly getting enough sleep is a key part of prioritizing your health.. Sleep deprivation can make daily activities like thinking, working, and communicating with others more difficult due to symptoms including fatigue, irritability, cognitive dysfunction, anxiety, and depression.

It can also negatively impact the whole body physiologically, from the brain to the heart, and the metabolic, nervous, and immune systems, and may lead to trouble concentrating, increased anxiety, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, headaches, and more. While consistent sleep is vital everyday, it’s especially important for pregnancy. 

A lack of sleep has been linked to a wide range of issues during pregnancy, including trouble with remembering and paying attention, abnormal fatigue during the day, a greater chance of falling, and an increased likelihood of experiencing the symptoms of depression.

Research has also linked sleep deprivation to negative outcomes during labor. Sleep deprived patients were found to be more likely to experience pain and discomfort during labor, longer labor times, and an increased incidence of preterm labor and cesarean procedures. 

Why Sleep During Pregnancy Can Be Difficult

There are several factors that can contribute to sleep disruptions and deprivation during pregnancy. Many of the physiological changes that occur during pregnancy make sleep more difficult.

For example, cardiac input and heart rate increase to pump a higher blood volume through the body and the uterus – and an elevated heart rate can make it harder to fall and stay asleep. The kidneys are also taxed with filtering this elevated blood volume, and produce more urine as a result. As pregnancy progresses, extra pressure is placed on the bladder, requiring more nightly bathroom visits. 

Gastrointestinal symptoms like reflux or heartburn can worsen at night, causing discomfort that disrupts sleep. Leg and back pain is common, especially during the later trimesters due to the increased stress put on the body from supporting the growing uterus.

Changes in hormone levels can also cause a variety of symptoms that can get in the way of a good night’s sleep, including shortness of breath, nausea, elevated body temperature, leg cramping, and vomiting. 

How To Improve Sleep During Pregnancy 

It’s easy to see how getting quality sleep can be challenging during pregnancy. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get adequate rest when pregnant. There are plenty of ways to address the unique challenges associated with each stage and improve sleep during each trimester. 

First Trimester

During the first trimester, progesterone levels rise to promote proper early development. High levels of progesterone have been linked to symptoms such as excess daytime fatigue and feeling very warm or hot. The nausea and vomiting that come along with morning sickness can also occur at night, making it difficult to get comfortable or stay in bed for long enough to get consistent sleep

Sleep deprivation during the first trimester has been linked to health issues including gestational diabetes and high blood pressure. Not getting enough sleep early in pregnancy can also cause increased levels of stress and more depressive symptoms. 

The first trimester is the perfect time to lay the groundwork for healthy sleep habits that will support quality sleep throughout your entire pregnancy. Simple adjustments to your nightly routine can make a big difference in how well you sleep, such as limiting screen time right before bed and optimizing your sleep environment.

Make sure your room is cool and dark, that your bed and sheets feel comfortable, and that the space is free of distractions. Additionally, avoiding late meals and spicy or fatty food items can help reduce digestive discomfort from heartburn and acid reflux. 

Second Trimester

In many cases, there is some relief from certain sleep difficulties during the second trimester. Hormone levels tend to be more consistent, reducing uncomfortable symptoms, and there is usually less of a need to visit the bathroom multiple times during the night. There are, however, other sleep challenges unique to the second trimester. For example, swelling in the feet, headaches, nasal congestion, and lower back pain due to weight gain can get in the way of sleeping through the night.

Sleep is usually more frequently disrupted during the first and third trimesters – which means that prioritizing sleep during the second trimester is essential. The second trimester should be seen as a chance to get better rest to support proper development and overall health. Failing to get enough sleep during the second trimester has been associated with diminished quality of life, mental health challenges, and gestational diabetes. 

There are several simple adjustments that can be made during the second trimester in order to improve sleep and put you on the right track to getting the rest you need for a healthy pregnancy.

Side sleeping has been found to be the most comfortable second trimester position, and left side sleeping is a great way to increase blood flow and nutrient delivery through the placenta. Adopting an exercise routine can also improve sleep quality. It’s best to schedule workouts for the morning or afternoon since nighttime exercise can make it harder to fall asleep. 

Third Trimester

Sleep can be much more challenging during the third trimester than the second. The third trimester is often considered to be the most uncomfortable stage for getting consistent, restful sleep. Lower back pain, muscle aches, heartburn, restless legs syndrome, and more frequent urination are all common experiences during the third trimester that can make falling or staying asleep extremely difficult. Insomnia, snoring, and sleep apnea are also common sleep disturbances during this stage. 

Sleep deprivation during the third trimester has been linked to a host of possible negative effects, including preterm birth, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, longer labors and higher rates of cesarean sections. Good quality sleep during the third trimester can reduce the experience of depressive symptoms during and after pregnancy and help lead to a better breastfeeding experience. 

Continuing to sleep on the left side can help reduce discomfort and support proper development. Adding in a pregnancy pillow or placing smaller pillows in between your legs, behind your back, or under your belly can help reduce pressure and relieve muscle aches to make it easier to sleep.

The third trimester can also be stressful. Incorporating additional sleep hygiene techniques can promote relaxation and increase the likelihood of getting a good night’s rest. This could include listening to music or taking a warm bath before bed, trying light yoga exercises during the day, setting up a white noise machine in your room, or practicing deep breathing and meditation on a regular basis. 

Track Sleep During Pregnancy With WHOOP

Tracking your sleep during each stage of pregnancy is an important way to take control of your health journey. WHOOP offers unparalleled insight into your sleep performance, including a look at how much time you spend in each sleep stage, your sleep efficiency, number of wake events, and your sleep debt. WHOOP can help you keep track of how your lifestyle and sleep hygiene strategies are impacting your sleep during each trimester. 

You can also use the recorded data and personalized recommendations to inform future changes that can be made to further improve your sleep. WHOOP also offers Pregnancy Coaching to provide weekly insights to help you optimize your habits to support you throughout your pregnancy journey. 

Get insight into your sleep habits during each trimester and take action to improve your sleep with WHOOP.