What to do about insomnia during pregnancy
Sleeping while pregnant can already be difficult due to the large belly. Pregnancy insomnia can take this problem to a whole new level! Growing a human is already exhausting work without trying to do it with little rest. If you can’t sleep and think you may be suffering from pregnancy insomnia try some of these remedies! I’ve broken the list down into natural remedies, over the counter remedies, and last resort options.
Nothing in this post should be used as medical advice. Always consult your doctor before taking any medications, natural or otherwise. Everyone’s situation is unique and what may be safe for one person may not be safe for another. These are remedies I have personally used or been recommended by other pregnant women.
The first thing to know about pregnancy insomnia is that you are not alone. 40% of pregnant women experience some insomnia during pregnancy in the first and second trimesters and the number jumps to 64% in the third trimester according to a study from Science Daily. It can be caused by many different things and vary from the occasional night of sleeplessness to an every night ordeal.
My experience, unfortunately, has been the second so, believe me, I know your pain! Mine began somewhere around 30 weeks pregnant and was an issue almost every night until my daughter was born. Luckily with my first daughter, I had almost zero insomnia issues or I may have reconsidered getting pregnant again!
My insomnia is caused by some combination of my busy brain, aches, pains, and discomfort from the pregnancy, and the dreaded restless leg syndrome or (RLS), another condition commonly suffered by pregnant women.
Sleep is important to both mom and baby so do what you can to try to combat the pregnancy insomnia, especially if it’s becoming a chronic issue. Below are the remedies that were recommended to me by doctors and other moms. I tried almost all of them with varying degrees of
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Remedies for Pregnancy Insomnia in any trimester
I’m always a fan of starting with natural remedies before moving onto other options.What you have to remember is that natural doesn’t always equal safe, especially while pregnant. There are even many teas and herbs that you should not ingest while pregnant. When in doubt, always check with your care provider.
1. Treat the Cause
Physical discomfort. The first and most obvious solution is to treat the underlying problem that is causing your insomnia. The bigger you get the harder it becomes to be comfortable, probably part of the reason insomnia spikes in the third trimester.
For physical discomfort you can join a prenatal yoga class, visit a chiropractor (I’ve been told by many pregnant women that they can work miracles), or get a giant pregnancy pillow to help you get comfy at night. I also find that a hot shower or warm bath before bed can help to relax achy muscles so that I can get to sleep.
You may also want to limit fluid intake at night to try to reduce the number of times you have to get up and use the restroom during the night.
Anxiety. Anxiety can definitely keep you awake at night…and becoming a parent can definitely make you anxious. Whether you’re worrying about the to-do list, finances, giving birth, or whether you’ll make a good parent it can be hard to sleep with all these things running through your head. Meditating before bed can help to relax the body and mind and easy some of that anxiety. It can also help to start taking control of some of these issues by:
- Making a to-do list. Keep it by your bed so you can jot something down if it comes to mind in the middle of the night. You can get my week-by-week pregnancy guide to help you make sure you get everything done.
- Take a childbirth class
- Read positive labor stores like those in Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth
- Take up journaling as a way to get the thoughts and fears out and clear your head
- Pray (if you’re so inclined). Give your fears and worries up to God and ask him to help you get through them.
2. Natural Sleep Aids
There are a few natural things you can take to help you feel sleepy and shut down for rest.
- Sleepy time tea – You can buy a sleepy time tea at the store and drink a cup before bed. The herbs may help you to relax. Just don’t drink too much or you’ll be up all night using the restroom.
- Rub on some Vicks Pure Zzzzs – this aromatherapy balm is filled with chamomile and lavender, the same things found in the tea. Rub some on your chest and neck and the scents may help you to relax. If you’re a user of essential oils you could use those as well, just ensure whatever you use is pregnancy safe.
- Take Melatonin – This is one of the few things that has actually worked for me! Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by the body that helps with sleep. Taking melatonin supplements a few hours before bed may help you to drift off to sleep more easily. My doctor okayed me to take 2 pills (mine are only 2.5mg each), so 5mg of melatonin as 1 wasn’t doing the job. There are mixed opinions as to whether melatonin is safe for pregnant women so be sure to discuss your situation with your healthcare provider.
3. Create an optimal sleep environment
If you’re struggling to sleep, setting the mood may help.
- Turn off electronic devices as the lights may interfere with sleep.
- Relax in bed and turn the lights down low to help signal to your body that it’s time for sleep.
- You may also consider playing soothing music. You can purchase a sound machine that will give you many options. YouTube has many videos you can play of rain or running water and even some with voiceovers that are designed to help you get to sleep. Give them a try for a few nights and see if they help you to sleep!
Over the Counter medications for pregnancy insomnia
Over the counter medications are often recommended to pregnant women to help with sleep. If you look at the ingredients many of them have the same drug in them so it doesn’t really matter which one you choose, grab your favorite, or whichever is on sale.
One major caveat! I am one of the unlucky pregnant women who suffer from restless leg syndrome (RLS). According to WebMD almost one third or pregnant women deal with it. If you suffer from RLS be very careful what you take for insomnia.
Antihistamines often make RLS worse. While they may help you sleep for a night or two they will likely begin to make your RLS worsen essentially cancelling out any help they provide with falling asleep. It’s very frustrating but better to know before you begin taking something. I didn’t know until after the fact.
Unisom is one of the most popular medications recommended to pregnant women to help with sleep. Some also take it for nausea. Unisom comes in 2 versions, the main drug being the difference between the two.
The first type of Unisom contains Doxylamine succinate, which is an antihistamine. I tried this one first and I felt terribly groggy the next day. A few women told me that your body will adjust after a couple days. However, I did not like the feeling at all and I have a toddler to care for. I did not feel safe taking care of her alone with the way I felt and how out of it I was. If you try this one definitely do it on a weekend when you don’t have to work the next day or will have help with the kids if you’re already a mom.
The second type of Unisom contains Diphenhydramine HCl, which is another antihistamine. This is the same one found in many allergy medications. Each pill is 50mg. This one did help me to fall asleep. If it hadn’t worsened my RLS I would’ve stuck with it.
Benadryl is of course generally taken as an allergy medication. But it often has the side effect of making you drowsy. Most of the ones I see contain 25mg of Diphenhydramine, the same drug used in Unisom, though in a smaller dosage.
3. Tylenol PM
Yet another option is Tylenol PM. Tylenol is one of the only pain relievers generally recommended for pregnant women. The PM version contains the Acetaminophen found is regular Tylenol as well as 25mg of Diphenhydramine per pill. This may be a great combo if you are having aches and pains that are also keeping you up at night.
If you don’t need the pain reliever I’d personally recommend taking a different medication so as not to take Acetaminophen unnecessarily. Too much can be tough on your liver.
The last option is ZzzQuil. This one comes in liquid or pill form. If you hate pills this may be a great option for you! This one contains 50mg of, you guessed it, Diphenhydramine, in each dose.
So, which over the counter sleep medication is best for pregnant women?
So long as your doctor has okayed you to take one of these, any of them are fine. Aside from the first version of unisom they all contain exactly the same medication. The unisom does appear to provide a higher dosage in each pill than the others.
If you suffer aches and pains as well Tylenol PM may be best as it can manage both issues with one pill.
If you hate pills try the ZzzQuil in liquid form.
Prescription meds for severe pregnancy insomnia
If you have tried all of these and still cannot sleep your doctor may consider prescribing you a prescription sleep aid. Mine prescribed me Ambien.
I filled the prescription, but after doing some research of my own I opted not to take it unless I got truly desperate. It does cross the placenta and the effects on your baby aren’t really known. It can also have some crazy side effects.
I would definitely recommend discussing the pros and cons with your doctor. But sleep is definitely important.
What works for me?
Since I have RLS and pregnancy insomnia I have a crazy routine that sometimes works for me. I take a magnesium supplement a few hours before bed. I often also take a hot late night shower to help relax my legs and body. Then I take two melatonin gummies about an hour before I hope to fall asleep. Sometimes I also take some Tylenol if I’m having extra aches and pains. Phew. It’s quite the routine and still only works about 60-70% of the time but it’s getting me by without having to take that Ambien.
Needless to say, I am pretty ready for this baby to come and praying all these issues go away once my body is my own again. If I had had RLS and pregnancy insomnia with my first daughter she might be an only child!
Update: My insomnia did go away as soon as my daughter was born. Having a newborn, of course, brings it’s own sleep issues but when I could sleep I was able to sleep again!
I truly hope some of these options help you to sleep as I understand how miserable it can be. Feel free to vent in the comments or shoot me an email at [email protected], I definitely feel your pain and just know that you are not alone in your suffering.