Sleep Health

Insomnia in the Third Trimester: Sleep Challenges during Pregnancy

UPDATED
June 25, 2024
Author
Esther Lee
Reviewer

Insomnia Third Trimester: Causes, Effects, and Coping Tips

Getting enough sleep is crucial for pregnant women, but many struggle with sleep, especially in the third trimester of pregnancy. If you're experiencing sleeplessness during this period, this article explores the causes and offers solutions to help you sleep better.

What Is Insomnia?

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that makes it hard to fall or stay asleep. During pregnancy, especially in the third trimester (from around the 28th week until birth), physical and psychological changes can worsen sleep issues. This article delves into the causes of insomnia in these final three months of pregnancy and offers solutions to manage these sleep disturbances.

Understanding Insomnia during the Third Trimester

Insomnia is characterized by difficulty entering into or maintaining deep sleep. In the third trimester, hormonal changes, physical discomfort, frequent urination, anxiety, and fetal movements all contribute to sleeplessness. Knowing these factors is essential for effective treatment of pregnancy insomnia.

Causes of Insomnia in the Third Trimester

Hormonal Changes

Hormonal shifts during pregnancy, particularly an increase in progesterone, prepare the body for labor but can disrupt the sleep-wake cycle, making it harder to sleep.

Physical Discomfort

As the pregnant woman’s uterus grows, it presses on other organs, causing discomfort and frequent nighttime urination. Finding a comfortable sleeping position can also be difficult due to back pain, indigestion, and leg cramps (Smyka et al., 2020).

Anxiety

Pregnancy can be a period of significant emotional and mental upheaval. Worries about delivery, parenthood, and the baby’s health can make it difficult to relax and sleep (Hashmi et al., 1969).

Fetal Movements

As pregnancy progresses, fetal movements become more noticeable and can keep a mother awake.

Impact of Insomnia on Pregnancy

Insomnia during pregnancy can affect a woman’s emotional and physical well-being, leading to fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and mood swings. Lack of sleep can also increase health risks for both mother and baby.

Why does the third trimester make resting so tricky?

Expanding Belly and Physical Discomfort

In the third semester, the growing fetus and the swelling of the uterus can stress other organs, making it difficult to relax or recline. Sciatic nerve compression which causes leg pain, can disrupt sleep, not to mention lower back and pelvic pain (Román-Gálvez et al., 2018).

Frequent Urination

Pregnant women in their third trimester find themselves waking up often to go to the bathroom at night. The increased pressure on the bladder leads to frequent bathroom trips, decreasing the chances of remaining in a restorative sleep state. An immediate need to relieve oneself might be triggered by so much as a slight change in body position (Reichner, 2015).

Heartburn and Indigestion

During the third trimester, the growing uterus can press on the stomach and push stomach acid back up the esophagus and into the chest and neck, causing painful acid reflux known as heartburn. This may be exacerbated by laying down and going to bed (Wołyńczyk-Gmaj et al., 2017). Nausea, vomiting, and indigestion caused by hormonal shifts during pregnancy make it even harder to get proper sleep.

Restless Leg Syndrome and Leg Cramps

Restless legs syndrome (RLS), along with leg cramps and other painful muscular spasms, are common in the third trimester, causing discomfort and disrupting sleep (Salari et al., 2021). Restless legs syndrome (RLS)  is characterized by involuntary limb movements caused by disagreeable sensations, such as tingling or a "crawling" sensation in the legs. This disorder's symptoms are typically more evident during times of relaxation and sleep. Painful calf cramps – when they co-occur with restless legs syndrome (RLS) – can make it especially challenging for expectant mothers to achieve good quality sleep.

Can Insomnia during Pregnancy Influence a Child's Development?

While third trimester insomnia doesn’t directly harm the baby, inadequate sleep can negatively affect the mother’s health, indirectly impacting the baby.

Tips for Managing Insomnia during the Third Trimester

Establish a Bedtime Routine

Having a set of habits to follow nightly before bed can help with third trimester insomnia by sending the brain and body a message that it’s time to wind down. Create a relaxing pre-sleep routine, such as taking a warm bath, reading, or doing light stretching exercises. Avoid electronics and cognitively demanding activities before bed as blue light from displays can keep you awake (Baglioni et al., 2020).

Create a Comfortable Sleep Environment

Get a pregnancy cushion, or use additional pillows to support your back and hips. A cool, dark, and quiet room is ideal for sleep. You could cover your eyes, listen to your favorite sounds, or use essential oils.

Manage Stress and Anxiety

Regular use of stress management techniques during third trimester pregnancy can help maintain a peaceful state of mind for undisturbed sleep. Practice deep breathing techniques, meditation, or prenatal yoga to relax. Consider going to therapy or joining a support group to help manage your anxieties if needed.

Exercise Regularly

Engage in low-impact exercises like walking, swimming, or prenatal yoga that are benficial for pregnant women (Kalmbach et al., 2019). These exercises can tire the body and prime it for a more restful night's sleep. However, you should talk to your doctor before starting any high-intensity workout program when you're expecting.  

Eat a Balanced Diet

Consume healthier meals to sleep better. Avoid large meals before bed to prevent discomfort and heartburn. Opt for a light, balanced snack instead and limit fluids in the evening.

Avoid Stimulants

Cut out caffeine, including coffee, tea, and energy drinks, and nicotine – especially in the late afternoon and evening (Reichner, 2015).

Use Relaxation Techniques

Experiment with deep breathing, guided visualization, or soothing music to relax before bed. Consider using sounds like Monaural Beats that specifically tap into brainwave entrainment – priming an optimal condition for deep sleep.

Seek Support from Healthcare Providers

If your insomnia persists or significantly impacts your daily functioning, don’t be afraid to seek medical help. If necessary, your healthcare provider can give additional guidance, evaluate any underlying issues, and provide clinically proven sleep aids.

When to Consult a Doctor

Sleep difficulties are typical during pregnancy, but severe cases require professional help. Remember that your healthcare provider is there to support you and ensure you and your baby are healthy, so don't be afraid to talk to them if you encounter any of the following:

·      Insomnia severely interferes with daily life.

·      You experience excessive daytime sleepiness.

·      You have symptoms of anxiety or depression.

·      You notice signs of restless legs syndrome (RLS).

·      You are concerned about unusual or severe fetal movements.

Conclusion  

The third trimester is when many pregnant women report having problems sleeping. While challenging, identifying the causes of and implementing coping strategies can improve sleep quality and overall well-being. Prioritize sleep during this crucial time for a healthier pregnancy.

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