How to Sleep Well During Pregnancy

10 sleep snatchers and how to stop them in their tracks

Pregnant woman sleeping

Ah, the joys of pregnancy! The warm feeling of new life growing in your belly; the knowing smiles from family, friends and strangers as they congratulate you on your leap into this miraculous adventure of a lifetime; the anxious anticipation of adding a new person to your family — there is no other time in your life when you will feel so revered and honored as when you are pregnant.

Too bad Mother Nature didn’t get the memo! Along with all the wonders of pregnancy come a few unpleasantries that herald the arrival of the tiny newcomer who is about to rock your world. Frequent bathroom breaks too numerous to count, new aches and pains, unabated nausea, and an ever-widening girth can make this prelude into motherhood challenging. And all of these bumps on the smooth road into motherhood can make a good night’s sleep a thing of the past.

Shot of a pregnant woman lying with her head under her pillow

For most women, figuring out how to sleep well during pregnancy is just one of the many challenges that make motherhood the toughest job you’ll ever love. According to a National Sleep Foundation poll, 78% of women reported more sleep disturbances during pregnancy than at any other time in their lives. You know what that means? Well, for one thing, you’re not the only one tossing and turning at night. But it also means the sleep challenges don’t last forever.

And there’s more good news. There are steps you can take to minimize sleep disruptions and help you get the best possible sleep during your pregnancy. And, of course, at the end of nine months or so, you’ll be cradling a beautiful bundle of love and joy in your arms.

78% of women reported more sleep disturbances during pregnancy than at any other time in their lives.

10 sleep challenges during pregnancy and how to address them

Let’s take a look at the ten most common sleep snatchers and how you can stop them from robbing you of precious sleep.

1. Rapidly growing body 

There’s a whole lotta growing goin’ on inside your body. You will soon notice not only your baby bump but a fuller figure all around. That means your favorite sleep positions may not work for you anymore. And they may be downright dangerous.

  • Stomach sleeping. It won’t take long before your fuller belly and breasts make it impossible to get comfortable in a prone position. After 18 weeks or so, the pressure on your uterus from lying on your stomach will constrict your inferior vena cava, which carries blood from your legs to your heart, leading to poor blood flow for you and your baby.
  • Back sleeping. Flipping over onto your back is not a good alternative since back sleeping during pregnancy, especially in the third trimester, puts pressure on major blood vessels like your aorta and vena cava. A recent study in the U.K. found that sleeping on your back during the third trimester doubles the risk of stillbirth, possibly because of this decrease in circulation.

What you can do

SOS — sleep on side — specifically, sleeping on your left side, is the best position for sleeping well and healthfully during your pregnancy. This position increases your blood flow and relieves pressure on your back. Several additional pillows can help. Put one between your knees to keep your hips aligned, one behind you to support your back, and one under your belly to support the baby’s weight. Or snuggle up to a body pillow to fill some of these supporting roles.

Sleeping on your left side is the best position for sleeping well and healthfully during your pregnancy.

Pregnant woman sleeping on side

 

2. Breathing difficulties

As your baby grows, your uterus begins to push on your diaphragm and lungs, making it difficult to breath while you sleep.

What you can do

Using pillows to prop yourself into a semi-reclined position is a safe and comfortable alternative to the SOS position that takes the pressure off your lungs. In addition to propping up your upper body, place a pillow under your knees and one under each arm to prevent them from falling asleep.

Woman sleeping with pregnancy pillow

3. Churning stomach

Morning sickness? Try “morning-noon-and night sickness.” While it’s not harmful to you or your baby unless it is severe, nausea will rob you of sleep and that can be harmful to both of you.

What you can do

There are several ways to combat morning sickness that comes at night:

  • Eat dinner earlier in the evening to allow ample time for digestion and avoid lying down after eating.
  • Eat six smaller meals instead of three throughout the day so your stomach always has something in it.
  • Nibble on plain crackers during the night if necessary and eat a few before rising in the morning.
  • Sleep in a semi-reclined position to increase circulation.

4. The fire within

Pressure from your growing baby on your stomach can force acid into your esophagus, giving you painful heartburn, especially when you lie down at night.

What you can do

The remedies for heartburn are similar to those for nausea. Be sure to avoid large meals near bedtime and eat slowly. Stay away from spicy and acidic foods.


5. Peeing again?

Hormonal changes, increased blood volume, and your growing uterus pressing on your bladder all lead to more and more frequent bathroom runs that will disturb your sleep.

What you can do

While you can’t eliminate the need to pee often, you can minimize the frequency.

  • Drink plenty of water during the day, but limit your intake after about 7:00pm.
  • Avoid diuretics like coffee, tea, soda, and alcohol.
  • Empty your bladder fully by leaning forward when you pee.

Top view of a few cups of beverages

6. Stuffy nose

Higher levels of estrogen and progesterone increase blood volume everywhere including your nasal membranes. This makes them swell and produce more mucus that stuffs up your nose and leads to postnasal drip that can keep you awake.

What you can do

Saline sprays and nose strips can ease nighttime stuffiness and reduce snoring. Sleeping with your upper body elevated can also help make breathing easier.

Sleeping with your upper body elevated can help make breathing easier.


7. Poor sleep hygiene

It sounds like it’s related to washing, but it’s not. It just means that your bedtime routine and sleep environment are not optimal for sleeping well. Daytime stressors, certain foods, and late-night activities can steal your much-needed rest.

What you can do

Clean up your bedtime ritual and stick to it.

  • Take time to unwind for thirty minutes or so before you try to sleep. Take a warm bath, meditate, do prenatal yoga, or read a book.
  • Block any light sources and use a dim nightlight in the bathroom.
  • Make sure your mattress is in good shape and provides ample support.
  • Avoid strenuous exercise three hours or less before bedtime.
  • Avoid any screen time since the light devices emit delays the release of melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone.
  • After the first trimester, use an essential oil diffuser to help calm you to sleep. Be sure to avoid oils that can cause contractions. 

Young woman reading book in bathtub

Avoid any screen time before bed since the light devices emit delays the release of melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone.

8. Baby’s nocturnal gymnastics

You probably thought you had a year or two before you had to handle an active baby. Nope. Many pregnant women report feeling their babies kick at around 20 weeks, and baby doesn’t know when it’s time to sleep. But you can begin teaching your baby when to sleep even before they’re born.

What you can do

Improving your sleep hygiene (see above) will help you and your baby fall asleep at night.

Close up of a pregnant woman holding belly near a window at home

9. Leg cramps

It’s not clear why pregnant women get leg cramps. Theories include compressed blood vessels in the legs restricting blood flow and low calcium and magnesium. Whatever the cause, they are painful muscle spasms that can jar you and your partner awake and keep you awake until they release and you calm down.

What you can do

Increasing your intake of foods with calcium and magnesium may help. Staying active during the day, drinking plenty of water, and stretching your legs will help to prevent bothersome leg cramps.


10. Restless Leg Syndrome

RLS gives you an irresistible urge to move your legs as you feel a creeping and crawling sensation in your muscles. Definitely not relaxing.

What you can do

Ask your doctor to test your levels of iron, magnesium, and vitamin D as deficiencies can cause RLS. Supplements can boost your levels. Daily exercise and avoiding caffeine can help keep RLS at bay.


Need a visual to help you remember all these tips? Enjoy this video that summarizes steps you can take to sleep well during pregnancy.


Pregnancy is an exciting time of change and transformation both physically and metaphysically. Sleep difficulties are simply a part of the whole package, but they don’t have to rob you of the joys of being pregnant. Taking steps to minimize your sleep challenges will ensure you are rested and strong for your delivery and the next phase of life’s biggest adventure.