According to a 2018 study of 486 pregnancies, 44.2 percent involved insomnia during the first trimester. The study concludes that insomnia is more likely to occur in those who have sleep problems before they become pregnant. However, anyone can experience sleep disturbances in pregnancy.
Insomnia tends to get worse as pregnancy progresses but can occur at any stage. In the first trimester, hormonal shifts are the most likely cause.
What causes insomnia in early pregnancy?
Insomnia can result from hunger, nausea, anxiety, or depression.
Aside from hormonal changes, factors that may make insomnia worse include:
- spicy foods, which may cause digestion issues, especially if eaten near bedtime
- anxiety or depression
- physical discomfort
- frequent bathroom trips
- restless leg syndrome (RLS)
Other less obvious causes include difficulty breathing, with this difficulty sometimes affecting a person's breathing at night when they are pregnant. This can cause snoring and brief pauses in breathing called apnea.
Breathing problems during sleep at the end of the second and during the third trimester are more common.
Simple home remedies
According to early studies, use of sleeping pills during pregnancy requires caution. This restriction may feel frustrating, but some natural remedies can safely treat insomnia:
1. Practice better sleep hygiene
Sleep hygiene refers to habits that make it easier to fall asleep. Good sleep hygiene signals the brain to wind down and begin sleeping.
People may wish to try the following:
- Only sleep in the bed and not anywhere else.
- Wake and go to bed at the same time each day.
- Keep the bedroom dark and cool.
- Make the bed as comfortable and inviting as possible.
- Do not use screens in bed, such as phones or television.
- Get up if you cannot sleep after 15 to 30 minutes.
- Limit caffeine before bed, or eliminate it throughout the day.
- Limit fluids in the hours before bedtime.
Other habits to promote sleep include having a massage to reduce stress or taking a warm bath before bed.
2. Try dietary supplements
People who are pregnant should not use dietary supplements without first talking to a doctor. Herbal and dietary supplements may help with sleep, however.
Supplements of the naturally occurring hormone melatonin may also help.
A limited body of research suggests melatonin may also support healthy brain development in a baby. However, a 2016 Cochrane review emphasizes that more research is necessary to confirm this possible effect.
People with RLS may be deficient in iron and folic acid, so if RLS keeps a person awake at night, they should ask their doctor to test them for nutritional deficiencies.
3. Relaxation techniques
Meditation can help with insomnia in pregnancy.
Relaxation exercises can help calm an anxious mind.
People can try progressive relaxation, which involves slowly and steadily relaxing each muscle in the body one at a time, beginning with the toes. Meditation may also help.
A 2015 study in the journal Obstetric Medicine concludes that meditation may help insomnia in pregnancy. The study says that meditation is a nonpharmacological way of managing insomnia and that prenatal hatha yoga may help.
More studies are needed to make this a definite recommendation, but people may find it useful to try yoga.
4. Cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT
CBT for insomnia can treat people with severe sleep deprivation get better sleep. It can help a person:
- understand their insomnia
- talk through emotions that play a role in insomnia
- make healthful changes that reduce insomnia
CBT may be particularly helpful for those facing anxiety or depression.
5. Physical activity
The physical demands of pregnancy alongside steady weight gain can make it difficult to keep active.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, there are many benefits to exercise during pregnancy. These include:
Gentle exercise can also help with insomnia. Any exercise during pregnancy should come with the recommendation of a doctor.
A 2016 study from the Pakistan Journal of Medical Sciences suggests around 30 minutes a day at least 4 to 6 hours before bedtime.
Some conditions may make it unsafe to exercise during pregnancy, so people should consult a doctor before starting any new workout routine.
Insomnia during the early and late stages of pregnancy is common and does not usually mean anything is wrong.
The 2018 study of 486 pregnancies found that insomnia occurs after pregnancy in 33.2 percent of cases. Living with a newborn may, in part, account for many of the sleep challenges people face after a baby is born.
With proper treatment and lifestyle changes, such as exercise and therapy, a person may be able to overcome insomnia during pregnancy. A doctor may also be able to help identify causes and help people find solutions.