How Sleep Patterns During Pregnancy Can Affect Your Delivery

pregnancy sleepThe most annoying thing you can possibly say to a pregnant woman is this: "Are you sure it's not twins? Ha ha ha!" (Penalty: DEATH.) The second most annoying thing, in my opinion, is "Sleep now while you can!" Right, because it's so easy to sleep when you're the actual size of a Ford Focus and plagued with acid reflux, congestion, aches and pains, restless legs, and the urge to pee every 16 minutes. Give me a newborn ANY DAY over sleeping while pregnant -- at least you can legitimately pass out when the baby does.

As if the various bodily indignities that make sleep so elusive during pregnancy aren't bad enough, here comes a new study suggesting that not getting a full night's rest can not only screw with your immune system, it can lead to birth complications and depression. THANKS, SCIENCE.


This latest round of Bummer News for Pregnant Ladies comes from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, in a study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine. Researchers found links between both the quality and quantity of pregnant women's sleep and complications at birth, including low birth weight and pre-term births.

The idea is that sleep disturbances can trigger the body's inflammatory responses and cause an overproduction of cytokines, which act as signal molecules that communicate among immune cells. Excess cytokines can attack and destroy healthy cells, inhibiting a pregnant woman's ability to ward off disease. This sort of inflammatory reaction is also linked with depression, vascular disease, and pre-term birth.

According to Michele Okun, Ph.D., lead author of the report,

Our results highlight the importance of identifying sleep problems in early pregnancy, especially in women experiencing depression, since sleep is a modifiable behavior. The earlier that sleep problems are identified, the sooner physicians can work with pregnant women to implement solutions.

You hear that, exhausted preggos? Sleep is a modifiable behavior. So just ... you know, stop not sleeping, would you?

Okay, I'm being a little sarcastic, but obviously it's not quite as easy as sternly telling yourself to get a good night's rest. Lots of things can contribute to poor sleep during pregnancy, including hormonal changes, anxiety, and plain old discomfort. Plus, the peeing. MY GOD, THE PEEING.

There's no one-size-fits-all answer for getting better sleep while you're pregnant, but some common advice includes:

• Cutting back on your caffeine consumption
• Drinking less fluids towards the end of the day to help reduce those frequent bathroom breaks
• Avoiding heavy, spicy meals before bedtime
• Exercising early rather than late in the day
• Practicing relaxation techniques (deep breathing, guided meditation, etc.)
• Establishing a regular, soothing bedtime routine
• Propping yourself up in bed to cut back on heartburn
• Pillows, pillows, pillows: either get one of those giant body pillows made just for pregnancy, or use multiple regular-sized pillows to cushion between your knees and behind your back

If all else fails, try to sneak in some naps during the day. And if anyone tries to give you a hard time about it, tell them the truth: you're doing it for the baby. Also, the baby needs a medicinal pint of Haagen-Dazs, STAT.

Did you have trouble sleeping during pregnancy?

Image via burnedbrain/Flickr

Read More >