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Sleeping During Pregnancy

Expectant parents know that it'll be harder to get a good night's sleep after their little one arrives, but who would have guessed that catching enough ZZZs during pregnancy could be so difficult?

Actually, you may sleep more than usual during the first trimester of your pregnancy. It's normal to feel tired as your body works to protect and nurture the developing baby. The placenta (the organ that nourishes the fetus until birth) is just forming, your body is making more blood, and your heart is pumping faster.

It's usually later in pregnancy that most women have trouble getting enough deep, uninterrupted sleep.

Why Sleeping Can Be Difficult

The first and most pressing reason behind sleep problems during pregnancy is the increasing size of the fetus, which can make it hard to find a comfortable sleeping position. If you've always been a back or stomach sleeper, you might have trouble getting used to sleeping on your side (as doctors recommend). Also, shifting around in bed becomes more difficult as the pregnancy progresses and your size increases.

Other common physical symptoms may interfere with sleep as well:

Your sleep problems might have other causes as well. Many pregnant women report that their dreams become more vivid than usual, and some even experience nightmares.

Stress can interfere with sleep, too. Maybe you're worried about your baby's health, anxious about your abilities as a parent, or feeling nervous about the delivery itself. All of these feelings are normal, but they might keep you (and your partner) up at night.

Finding a Good Sleeping Position

Early in your pregnancy, try to get into the habit of sleeping on your side. Lying on your side with your knees bent is likely to be the most comfortable position as your pregnancy progresses. It also makes your heart's job easier because it keeps the baby's weight from applying pressure to the large vein (called the inferior vena cava) that carries blood back to the heart from your feet and legs.

Some doctors specifically recommend that pregnant women sleep on the left side. Because your liver is on the right side of your abdomen, lying on your left side helps keep the uterus off that large organ. Sleeping on the left side also improves circulation to the heart and allows for the best blood flow to the fetus, uterus, and kidneys. Ask what your doctor recommends — in most cases, lying on either side should do the trick and help take some pressure off your back.

But don't drive yourself crazy worrying that you might roll over onto your back during the night. Shifting positions is a natural part of sleeping that you can't control. Most likely, during the third trimester of your pregnancy, your body won't shift into the back-sleeping position anyway because it will be too uncomfortable.

If you do shift onto your back and the baby's weight presses on your inferior vena cava, the discomfort will probably wake you up. See what your doctor recommends about this; he or she may suggest that you use a pillow to keep yourself propped up on one side.

Try experimenting with pillows to discover a comfortable sleeping position. Some women find that it helps to place a pillow under their abdomen or between their legs. Also, using a bunched-up pillow or rolled-up blanket at the small of your back may help to relieve some pressure. In fact, you'll see many "pregnancy pillows" on the market. If you're thinking about buying one, talk with your doctor first about which might work for you.

Tips for Sleeping Success

Although they might seem appealing when you're feeling desperate to get some ZZZs, remember that over-the-counter sleep aids, including herbal remedies, are not recommended for pregnant women. Instead, these tips may safely improve your chances of getting a good night's sleep:

When You Can't Sleep

Of course, there are bound to be times when you just can't sleep. Instead of tossing and turning, worrying that you're not asleep, and counting the hours until your alarm clock will go off, get up and do something: read a book, listen to music, watch TV, catch up on letters or email, or pursue some other activity you enjoy. Eventually, you'll probably feel tired enough to get back to sleep.

And if possible, take short naps (30 to 60 minutes) during the day to make up for lost sleep. It won't be long before your baby will be setting the sleep rules in your house, so you might as well get used to sleeping in spurts!

Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: October 2013

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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