Sleep Apnea and RLS
Insomnia is rarely a serious problem, but there are two issues that may start in pregnancy and continue after the baby's birth: sleep apnea and Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS).
Sleep apnea is often associated with excess weight but can be brought on by the edema of the nasal structures brought on by pregnancy. If insomnia due to sleep apnea becomes a serious problem during pregnancy or persists afterward, Dr. Sassower says it needs to be evaluated in a sleep study. RLS, the urge to move your legs when you're at rest, can manifest itself in pregnancy but often clears up afterward. If it doesn't, see your doctor.
In general, both Drs. Powell and Sassower agree that insomnia during pregnancy is transient and the conditions causing it quickly dissipate after the baby is born. It's then, says Dr. Powell, that you may be able to sleep, but the baby may have other ideas!
One Mom's Battle with Insomnia
Katherine Bishop from Pennsyvania knew she was pregnant with each of her children before she ever took a pregnancy test or saw a doctor because of her terrible insomnia. She'd be so tired she could barely keep her eyes open but couldn't sleep more than an hour or two at a time day or night.
Bishop consulted her doctor, but he was reluctant to give her anything medicinal at all. This was the early '90s, when the DES babies of the 1960s and 1970s were coming into adulthood. There was a lot of press about the long-term effects of being exposed to drugs in utero that had been thought to be safe at the time. It scared him, and he told her that.
During her first pregnancy, Bishop suffered. "I remember lying on the floor in the afternoon, so tired and never able to sleep," says Bishop. "It was like a nightmare except that I wasn't sleeping. When I did occasionally fall asleep, my husband would run around the house unplugging all the phones so no one would call and wake me up."
Like her morning sickness, the insomnia did pass within about six weeks, and, although she still had it with her next two pregnancies, it wasn't quite as bad. What also helped her was an awareness and acceptance of the fact that this was simply the way her body reacted to the early hormonal changes of pregnancy. It also helped that she didn't work outside the home at the time and didn't have to worry much about being alert and active.
Although Bishop is aware that her case was extreme, she notes that the advice her doctor gave her way back then still has a lot of value for a pregnant woman today:
- Try to rest but not nap during the day.
- Drink chamomile tea before bed.
- Use the bed only for sleeping.
- Be sure to have comfortable bedding.
- Try to avoid reading or watching anything too stimulating before bedtime.
I Still Can't Sleep!
So you've tried the basic advice to get complete sleep during pregnancy, and yet you are still spending your nights tossing and turning or staring at the ceiling. Dr. Traci Kurtzer, an OB-GYN in Chicago, Illinois, shares her tips for women who thought they had tried it all:
- Make sure to get daily exercise, ideally in the morning hours.
- Try drinking a warm glass of milk before you go to bed.
- Take a warm relaxing shower before you go to bed.
- Have your husband or partner give you a shoulder or back massage.
- Keep a notepad by your bed to write down any worries you have, or things you are trying to remember for tomorrow that you might be dwelling on—get them on paper and out of your mind.
- Last but not least, if the above measures don't work, ask your doctor for a prescription sleep aid, like Ambien, to use every once in a while just to get a full night's sleep.