The value of sleep is best realized by the lack thereof. Ask anyone who has ever been sleep deprived and they will be able to clearly articulate how tired, jittery, and confused they felt. Thus, although sleep is an automatic, semi-conscious physiological state that most people participate in on a daily basis, often it is not appreciated until it is withheld. The average adult needs between seven and nine hours of sleep per day.
Sleep is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle. Varying theories exist as to what happens while we sleep. The most widely accepted theory suggests that sleep is an essential time for the body to “power down”, rest and rejuvenate. Sleep allows the body time to repair damaged tissue and replenish neurotransmitters in the brain. As well, much of our long-term memory is solidified while we sleep.
Pregnant women often need more sleep depending on the stage of pregnancy. During the first trimester, women may feel the urge to sleep more than usual given the high levels of progesterone that support placental growth and the increased nutrient demands of a developing baby. Unfortunately, pregnant women might also experience more disruptions during sleep as they often are awaken with the need to urinate as the growing uterus puts pressure on the bladder. During the second trimester, sleep generally improves. Pregnant women can sustain adequate sleep by becoming a left side sleeper and practicing moderate exercise, just not too close to bedtime. As the pregnancy progresses into the third trimester, women might again find that sleep becomes difficult as they struggle to find a comfortable position given their enlarged abdomen. Also, just as in the first trimester, pregnant women experience the urge for frequent urination and may also have heartburn or other sleep disturbances. Finally, new parents find that sleep deprivation for the first few weeks after childbirth is also quite pronounced.
In general, pregnant women should allow themselves the freedom to rest, especially when they feel drowsy or tired from a restless night. Also, women can adopt a bed time routine of limiting fluids a few hours prior to bedtime; sleeping in a dark or very dimly lit area that is quiet and doesn’t have a television; exercising during the day but not late in the day; reducing stress and anxiety; propping against pillows to allow their body to rest on the left side; napping to reduce fatigue; and practicing a healthy diet, avoiding spicy, acidic or fried foods that cause heartburn or caffeine or alcohol that causes insomnia.
If insomnia is a problem, women should consult a doctor as over-the-counter sleep aids are generally not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding mothers. As well, persistent, long-term insufficient sleep should be treated because it is associated with chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and depression.