While pregnancy is a thrilling experience for many mothers-to-be, it is also scary in some ways. A lot of women suffer from bloating and leg cramps, and have to pee a lot more than normal. For others, sleep difficulties constitute a major complaint. Some studies indicate that about 80 percent of women complain of lack of sleep or insomnia during pregnancy. This may be more or less serious. But what are the effects of sleep deprivation on the mother and her unborn baby?
What Are the Consequences of Lack of Sleep During Pregnancy?
Lack of sleep has a negative impact on the health of an individual. In pregnant women, it increases the risk of hypertension and gestational diabetes. What causes the poor sleep? During pregnancy, chances of developing or worsening of snoring and sleep apnea increase, especially during the second and third trimesters. Sleep apnea affects up to 10 percent of pregnant women. The disruption of breathing during sleep can lead to:
- High blood pressure
- Pulmonary hypertension
- Gestational diabetes
A woman who is about 20-week pregnant with no history of high blood pressure is said to have high blood pressure if her blood pressure repeatedly measures 140mm Hg or higher.
If blood pressure is higher than usual and protein is also found in urine, this may be a sign of preeclampsia. This is one of the consequences of lack of sleep during pregnancy. Preeclampsia may lead to serious health complications for both mother and child, including organ injury and can sometimes be fatal.
Furthermore, chronic lack of sleep causes a change in the regulation of blood glucose levels, which can lead to obesity or changes in appetite. Persistent snoring during pregnancy is also associated with gestational diabetes while sleep apnea is associated with an increase in blood sugar levels.
Having neither quality nor quantity of sleep grossly affects an expectant mother’s mood, concentration, memory and in some cases, it can lead to depression.
Effects on the Developing Fetus
Usually, there’s nothing to worry about if you only experience occasional insomnia as your baby’s sleep patterns are independent of yours. However, long-term lack of sleep or fragmentation of deep sleep may lead to a reduction of the amount of growth hormone that is released. This hinders the baby’s growth.
While in the womb, a developing baby needs a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients. A slight disruption of both can lead to serious problems. Even a slight decrease in the mother’s oxygen levels causes decelerations in the heart rhythms and acidosis. Interestingly, blood flow to the fetus is at an optimum during sleep.
Insomnia or lack of sleep increases the risk of premature delivery, with studies showing that pregnant women who sleep less than six hours a night experience prolonged labor. They also have a 4.5 higher chance of undergoing caesarean section than their counterparts who get more than seven hours of sleep. Sleep deprivation also interferes with the normal progression of labor.
How to Get Enough Sleep During Pregnancy
The following tips will help you overcome the problem of insomnia during pregnancy:
- Keep off sugar in all its forms when you are about to hit the sack. You don’t need that kind of energy when you are about to sleep. It also messes with your glucose levels, so stay away as much as you can.
- Take lots of water. Eight glasses a day is just what the doctor orders. Distribute your water intake throughout the day and avoid taking it immediately before going to bed.
- A soothing warm bath relaxes your body and may be the only treatment you need to avoid lack of sleep during pregnancy.
- Keep off caffeine in all its forms. This includes chocolate too.
- Snack lightly. This will keep away midnight hunger pangs. Eat a light meal that is rich in proteins and carbohydrates.
- Exercise regularly. A brisk walk, indoor cycling or yoga in the daytime helps a lot. Be sure to avoid exercising before bed, or else you will only end up sabotaging sleep.
- Get some fresh air and keep your bedroom temperature comfortable for you.
- Making love relaxes you and improves your sleep.
- A healthy diet is essential during pregnancy. Foods that are rich in B vitamins reduce insomnia. These include fish, chicken, green vegetables, eggs and whole grains such as oatmeal. Make sure you take your dinner a few hours before you sleep to allow for digestion to take place.
- When sleeping, make sure that you are comfortable. You can use pregnancy pillows to help you achieve this. These pillows are used to support you on the back, knees and under your abdomen. Keep your head elevated while sleeping. This prevents and decreases snoring and heartburns.
- You should also talk to your midwife or doula about any pain or discomfort such as back pain, pelvic pain, etc. Avoid prescription drugs or over-the-counter medications intended to treat lack of sleep during pregnancy unless prescribed by your doctor.