Maria Kammerer, CNM: Tips for falling and staying asleep depend on the reason for the difficulty sleeping. If leg cramps are the problem, stretching your calf muscles before bed and in the morning can help decrease their frequency. Upping your calcium and potassium intake (try a yogurt and banana smoothie) can also help. Enlist your partner to flex your feet when cramps do come — this can decrease the severity. Backaches have many causes, but using an abdominal support belt during the day and lots of pillows under your stomach and between your legs during the night can reduce some of the discomfort. Shortness of breath can happen anytime in pregnancy, but many women experience it most during the third trimester. Using pillows to prop yourself up in bed or sleeping in the living room in a recliner can help. Worries about the pregnancy, your baby's health, labor and impending parenthood are very normal. I usually recommend taking stress reduction and/or childbirth preparation classes. You can also try writing down a list of your worries before bed and setting it aside so you don’t dwell on these worries into the night. A few tools and a little knowledge can go a long way toward reducing your stress.
In order to fall asleep, establish a calming routine to help you wind down after a busy day. This might include reading a book, drinking a small glass of chamomile tea, reducing your overall fluid intake after 7 p.m., getting a neck, shoulder, back or foot massage from your partner (whichever area needs it most!), and/or taking a warm bath. Stay active during the day, but don’t overdo it. Regular, low-impact exercise like swimming, walking and prenatal yoga can improve sleep and is also a good habit to get into for after pregnancy.
Basically, it comes down to figuring out what seems to be disturbing your sleep most, and working to reduce that. Then you can work on the other things — don’t try to change everything at once! And expect the cause of your sleeplessness to change as pregnancy progresses. For me, it was hip pain in the third trimester. Keeping one pillow between my legs helped a bit. What also helped was knowing that my discomfort was limited. Soon my little one would be born and the pain would be gone. (And I’d have a whole new set of reasons why I wasn’t getting sleep!)
If you’ve gone several nights with little sleep and basic comfort measures haven’t helped, don’t hesitate to talk with your provider.