Not feeling like a zombie at work isn’t the only reason it’s important to get better pregnancy sleep. Turns out, catching fewer Zzzz’s while you’re pregnant may actually have dangerous consequences to both your well-being and the health of your baby-to-be.
According to a study from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine published last month in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, insufficient or poor quality sleep during pregnancy may impair a woman’s immune system, which can ultimately lead to lower birth weight and other adverse consequences.
“There is a dynamic relationship between sleep and immunity, and this study is the first to examine the relationship during pregnancy as opposed to postpartum,” says Michele Okun, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at the medical school and lead author of the study. Researchers analyzed the sleep patterns of nearly 170 expectant moms for 10 weeks, beginning at the twentieth week of pregnancy. The women who did not sleep well were among those at greatest risk for precarious birth outcomes, including preterm birth.
Why you need better pregnancy sleep
Inadequate sleep can overstimulate the body’s inflammatory response, resulting in excessive production of cytokines, protein molecules that serve as messengers between immune cells. When too numerous, cytokines can hamper immune function by destroying healthy cells and tissue, and can, in pregnant women, disrupt spinal arteries that supply the placenta, causing vascular disease, depression and preterm birth.
In light of these conclusions, it’s more important than ever to identify prenatal snooze problems early and take steps to get a good night’s rest.
7 steps to better pregnancy sleep
Common causes of sleep disturbances during pregnancy include stress, discomfort, restless leg syndrome, heartburn and frequent need to urinate, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Medications to induce sleep or treat sources of sleep disruption are not recommended for women who are pregnant or nursing. Instead, take these steps to get better pregnancy sleep.
1. Get moving. One of the many benefits of regular exercise during pregnancy is better sleep, according to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Thirty minutes or more of gentle movement and stretching every day will help to relax you and prevent restless leg syndrome, potentially yielding better pregnancy sleep.
2. Fuel up. Eat frequent, small, meals. The National Sleep Foundation advises that expectant moms prevent sleep-disrupting nutritional deficiencies by taking in plenty of folate-rich whole grains and vitamin C-laced fruits and vegetables, such as broccoli, kale, strawberries and citrus fruits. Drink plenty of fluids, but avoid coffee, which reduces folate absorption and can contribute to heartburn. Spicy, acidic and fried foods can also produce slumber-hindering heartburn.
3. Maintain a healthy weight. Doing so will help you get better pregnancy sleep. That’s because excess pounds can cause pregnancy snoring or sleep apnea, irregular breathing that can disturb sleep.
4. Sleep on empty. To get better pregnancy sleep, don’t eat or drink a lot of liquids during the two hours before bedtime, and empty your bladder just before going to bed.
5. Take time to unwind. Take a warm bath, read, or engage in other quiet, relaxing activities before bedtime or when you’re having trouble sleeping.
6. Exploit circadian forces. Keep a consistent sleep schedule. Make sure your sleep environment is quiet and dark.
7. Get comfortable. Sleep on your left side to maximize blood flow to your organs and to your baby-to-be. Avoid lying on your back. Relieve pressure on your lower back by placing pillows between your knees, under your belly and behind you for support.
By Katherine M. Tomlinson