How to deal with sleeplessness during pregnancy


Just when you need a good night's sleep the most, it may be impossible to get. Dr. Keith Eddleman, author of Pregnancy for Dummies, explains how to deal with sleeplessness during pregnancy.

How to deal with sleeplessness during pregnancy

Some experts believe sleeplessness during pregnancy is nature's way of getting a mother used to what will happen after the baby is born and her sleep will be interrupted frequently to tend to the baby. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Difficulty sleeping is a normal symptom of pregnancy. You’re bigger, unbalanced, using different muscles, and it’s hard to get comfortable.
  • You can make yourself more comfortable by adding pillows, including a body pillow.
  • Consider drinking some warm milk before bed.
  • Consider whether your sleeplessness is becoming a problem during the day — do you fall asleep at the wheel, for example? Is your fatigue making it impossible for you to function?
  • If so, you may want some help — some women start with Benadryl, which Dr. Eddleman says is safe for mother and fetus. Unisom is also considered safe.
  • Talk to your doctor before taking anything.

STACEY: I'm Stacey Tisdale for howdini. When a woman is pregnant, a good night's sleep is essential, but oftentimes nearly impossible to get. The good news: there are some things that you can do. Joining us to discuss this is Dr. Keith Eddleman. He's the Director of Obstetrics at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York and author of two books including Pregnancy for Dummies. Thanks for joining us.

DR: EDDLEMAN: Thanks for having me.

STACEY: Dr. Eddleman why do pregnant women experience sleeplessness? 

DR: EDDLEMAN: Well there are different explanations. Probably one of the most important ones is just the physical size. Your size is bigger because you're pregnant. Also your center of gravity has shifted, you know, and that makes it harder for you to relax. You're using muscles while you're pregnant that you don't use while you're not pregnant or that you use in a different way.  So there's a lot of different tension on muscles and that can lead to increased risk--or increased sleeplessness. The other thing is there's some anthropological information to indicate that there's sort of an adaptive mechanism to try to help women get used to staying up when the baby's born to feed the baby and take care of the baby. So, there may be some anthropology in play there also. 

STACEY: So I know when I was pregnant, and when a lot of women I know were pregnant, based on what you just said with the anthropology--you just start saying a lack of sleep is just how it's going to be. But what problems does a lack of sleep actually cause pregnant women?

DR: EDDLEMAN:  Well the same types of problems they can cause for non-pregnant women or non-pregnant individuals, they can make it difficult to maintain your activities in daily living, to go to work effectively, to drive effectively. If you're sleepy and you're driving, that's putting yourself at risk. And that would be the same if you're pregnant and you're not pregnant. So a lack of sleep really exists as an inability to do things you normally do.

STACEY: How much sleep do we actually need to be healthy? 

DR: EDDLEMAN: That's different for every person. Every person has a different need. And I'd say again that the amount of sleep we need depends upon how much we need to enable you to do those activities of daily living. To go to work, to keep yourself healthy, to eat, to keep yourself groomed and to do the normal things that people do. 

STACEY: So what can people do-- if a woman decides, OK I'm pregnant, I have a child coming, I'm just not sleeping enough--what are some of the things they can do to increase their sleep time? 

DR: EDDLEMAN: Well first of all you want to try to get yourself comfortable. Try  to overcome some of those issues related to the fact that you're size has changed. And by that--buy lots of pillows. Buy lots of pillows and sort of make yourself as comfortable as you can. They make body pillows--

STACEY: Mm-hmm.

DR: EDDLEMAN: That people sort of wrap around themselves to make them feel, you know, cozy, comfortable. You know as comfortable as you can. The other thing you can do, you can do some things like--some people say drinking milk that's a little warm becauase that releases tryptophan which is something that is a natural sleep agent. Some people take things like Benadryl or over the counter medications. Benadryl is very safe for pregnant women. It's actually an antihistamine, but one of the side effects--

STACEY: It makes you tired. 

DR: EDDLEMAN:  It makes you sleepy. So it's something that's very safe for the fetus, very safe for the mom and we tell people to start with that.

STACEY: But obviously we should avoid some of the over the counter sleep medications. 

DR: EDDLEMAN: Well that's not necessarily true either.  Things like Unisom, that's an over the counter sleep medication that's also very safe to take during pregnancy. Usually you tell people to start with Benadryl then move to Unisom and if that doesn't work, then some individuals who have significant sleep deprivation...they need some presciption medication. 

STACEY: Right. 

DR: EDDLEMAN:  And there are actually some that are safe to use during pregnancy.

STACEY: And I know you say one of the ways to find out if you do need that extra help is just pay attention to how it's affecting your daily, normal life. 

DR: EDDLEMAN:  Absolutely if you find that you just can't get through your day. Your job performance, your productivity has suffered or if you find yourself falling asleep at the steering wheel at three o'clock in the afternoon, then that's time to think well maybe my sleep is a problem here.

STACEY: As usual great advice Dr. Keith Eddleman, Director of Obstetrics at Mount Sinai in New York. Thank you for joining howdini.

DR: EDDLEMAN: Thank you. 

meet theexpert
  • Dr. Keith Eddleman

    Dr. Keith Eddleman Director of Obstetrics, Mount Sinai Hospital, New York Dr. Keith Eddleman is Director of Obstetrics at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City. He practices Clinical Genetics, Maternal & Fetal Medicine, and Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Eddleman is the author of two books on pregnancy. more about this expert »

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