One of the most common pieces of advice I received during the latter half of my pregnancy was “Try to sleep before you have the baby.”
Oh, you hilarious people.
Here I am at 3am, wide-awake, because as much as I love the idea of that advice, in practice, sleep during pregnancy has been an elusive creature for me. I’m basically the size of a hot air balloon and full of more than just hot air.
There is a multitude of reasons that sleep has not been a bedfellow of mine. Here are the top culprits that keep me up at night:
I Can’t Sleep Because I’m Uncomfortable
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: growing a human is hard work. Your body goes through so many physical changes to accommodate your baby, it’s no wonder comfort is hard to come by.
I Can’t Sleep Because of Stress
Life doesn’t stop just because you’re having a baby—and let’s face it, life can be pretty hectic. Balancing work, school, a social life, exercising, staying in touch with family, and all the other things you have going on can quickly become overwhelming.
Stress certainly impacts your ability to sleep properly. I’ve spent many hours thinking about project deadlines and other obligations worrying about how I can get it all done.
I Can’t Sleep Because My Brain Won’t Turn Off
It’s not just life stress that keeps me up at night. Some of us are wired in a way that our brain just keeps us awake because of the silliest things. I’ll stay up wondering about things that have zero consequence in the real world. Like time travel, what it would be like to have an elephant trunk instead of hands, inventing my own language, and other oddball thoughts like that. This imagination of mine is great fun, but the ability to put it on pause would be magnificent.
It also doesn’t help that I get up to pee many times throughout the night (thank you, child, for using my bladder as a trampoline), which also stirs me awake.
If I Can’t Sleep, My Husband Shouldn’t Either
I confess, during these bouts of wakefulness, I have to fight the urge to shake Dan and pull him from slumber as well. Call it a reaction from hormones, call it bitterness that Dan’s not physically affected by pregnancy, either way, it only seems fair that he experiences some discomfort too. Right?
My petty side, that little shoulder devil, whispers in my ear, “You’re the one growing this kid, giving up a bunch of things you enjoy, dealing with all the symptoms, seeing the doctors AND he gets to sleep while you can’t. You wake him up. Dump some water on him.”
With these thoughts, my eyes inevitably tilt toward the full water bottle on the nightstand in brief consideration.
Give me a break—I’m fatigued and grouchy but I’ve never actually acted on this urge. My inner kindness allows my husband to remain undisturbed and blissfully unaware of my plight. Besides, he’s usually buried under two cats; he’s got enough going on through the late-night/early-morning hours.
Thankfully, with practice, I’ve found a few things that help me slowly settle back to sleep:
1. Heating pad
This has been an absolute treasure throughout my pregnancy. The muscles in my hips, glutes, and lower back have been downright unpleasant at times, and setting the heating pad on low gives my sad muscles a warm hug. Even as I write this post, I’m sitting on the heating pad; it’s wonderful.
The Sunbeam heating pad we have is great; it automatically turns off after two hours of continuous use (which has been handy when I eventually fall back asleep), heats up super quickly, and was insanely affordable (a big plus for a mom on a budget). We’ve had this heating pad for a long time, so it’s the gift that keeps on giving.
As I mentioned I get uncomfortable due to pain in my pelvis and posterior. It’s difficult to ignore the aches and fall back asleep—maybe I could have done so in my early twenties, but in my thirties, my pregnant body feels downright rickety.
I’m a huge advocate for seeing a registered massage therapist (RMT) when you’re pregnant. Not only do they help ease the discomfort during your visit, but they’ll give you some great stretches to do between RMT appointments. Since you’re pregnant, your physical limitations have changed, so make sure you get some advice on stretches to do that won’t negatively impact the baby.
3. Rearrange pillows
You’ll want to pad yourself with pillows from all angles to find a comfortable position. Build yourself a fortress if that’s what it takes.
For a while, I bogart all of the pillows in the apartment to create a little oasis for myself in bed. It really wasn’t fair to Dan who, I suppose, needs a pillow too. However, I must reiterate: shouldn’t partners experience some physical strife when it comes to pregnancy as a form of solidarity? Is that just me being crazy and selfish?
I’m also one of those sleepers who rolls around a lot during the night, so I need to be more-or-less penned in to make sure I’m not rolling into bad positions for my growing bump. I like the Meiz U-Shaped Pregnancy Pillow since it offers a lot of support and is super comfy.
It’s not just for mom either—husbands like mine also like to nap nestled into the pillow. You’ve been warned.
4. The right essential oil for your diffuser
I’ve always found that a calming, relaxing scent can lull me back to sleep. Around 33 weeks pregnant was when I was getting the least amount of sleep. I truly felt like I was wilting—like a sad, sickly houseplant. I needed something to help fool myself into thinking I was relaxing at a spa.
I recommend Saje Dream State blend; it has welcoming lavender and citrus notes. This blend is also really nice when you’re not feeling well.
When I was at my worst, I went into Saje and the associate was the most lovely and helpful person—the kind you want to hug even though they’re a stranger.
She showed me a bunch of products that are meant to help with sleep and then she double-checked that they’re safe to use in pregnancy (note: not all essential oils are recommended when you’re pregnant!). As always, thanks for the great service, Saje!
5. Write things down
You know those thoughts that keep you up at night? The worries, to-do lists, thoughts on projects, reminders for the week, that thing you forgot to do earlier, the events coming up this week…all those random things you can’t seem to get out of your head. I haven’t met a person unaffected by this phenomenon.
My granny refers to this as the mad monkeys keeping you up at night. It makes me imagine a dozen chimps mucking about in my head like it’s a playground. You have to agree, it’s an accurate metaphor.
When the mad monkeys start swinging around and keeping you from sleep, you need to get them out of your head and somewhere more concrete. I keep a pen and paper by my bed so I can write a list of everything that my brain fixates on. That way I know that I have an action plan to deal with my worries and stresses in the morning.
6. A simple cup of tea
To state the obvious: avoid the caffeinated stuff. What you want is something herbal that will make you feel cozy and loved.
If you’re a David’s Tea person, my go-tos are Organic Mother’s Little Helper or Organic Calming Chamomile. The smell of Mother’s Little Helper, in particular, warms the soul. The thing that I love about David’s tea is that in the store you can get as much or as little tea as you want, so trying new types of tea is an inexpensive experiment.
7. A book or movie
If all else fails and I’ve written down my list of things that I’m thinking about, I’m (somewhat) comfortable, and I still can’t sleep, I grab a book or movie. There is a trick here: you need to watch something that you’ve seen before or open a book that doesn’t capture too much of your interest.
For me, I’ve seen Charlie and the Chocolate Factory four thousand times. I put that movie on with the volume barely audible and set the screen brightness as low as it will go. I’m out in minutes.
For books, I pick something really dry or overly wordy (a textbook is perfect if you have one). I can’t read anything stimulating because I’m a book nerd and can’t stop once I’ve been hooked (I’m the same way with cookies). Again, within a few minutes of attempting to read, my brain says no thanks and is K.O.’d for the night.
8. Daytime naps
In spite of using some or all of the tips above, you’ll still have nights where your brain and body refuse to turn off. Case and point, me sitting here banging out a blog post hours before sunrise, but that’s okay.
Sleep when you’re tired. Take advantage of a catnap when you can. The important thing is to make sure you’re getting enough rest; it’s okay that it’s not in a solid eight-hour increment during the midnight hours.
If you’re still working, you have options too. I have friends who have slept in their car or office during their lunch break. More workplaces are also becoming flexible with their schedules where you can take a break when required and make up the time by staying later or working from home.
Talk to your boss and let them know what you need so you can fire on all cylinders.
I hope this list helps you connect with the Sandman and you find the sleep you’re looking for. Once the baby comes, you’re on somebody else’s sleep schedule entirely…and those little babies don’t care that you’re at a sleep deficit.
Put on your eye mask, plug in the diffuser, and retreat to your pillow fort; sleep is waiting for you, mama.
Do you have any tricks on how to lull yourself to dreamland? Comment below with what helps you fall asleep during pregnancy.
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Photo Credit: Ben Blennerhassett