Pregnancy Insomnia: What to Do When You Can’t Sleep

Last Updated: May 21, 2024
Liesel Teen, RN-BSN

By Liesel Teen

BSN, RN, Practicing Labor and Delivery Nurse

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If you are currently pregnant or have been pregnant in the past there’s a good chance you have, unfortunately, been a victim of pregnancy insomnia.

Some women experience it early on and throughout pregnancy, but it’s most common in the third trimester.

Whether you are an infrequent insomnia sufferer or struggle with chronic insomnia, let me just say – I feel your pain, mama! I have been there many a times and it is awful.

As if your body isn’t doing enough already, you know, growing a baby and everything, insomnia has to be thrown at ya too?

So today we’re going to break down pregnancy insomnia, why it happens, how to cope, and what to do when you can’t sleep. 

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What is pregnancy insomnia?

Pregnancy insomnia is, quite simply, insomnia that occurs during pregnancy. Insomnia is a sleep disorder that makes it difficult for someone to fall asleep, stay asleep, or both. Unfortunately, pregnancy is one of the most common causes of insomnia.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, “About 1 in 4 people (25%) have insomnia in early pregnancy (the first trimester). Up to 80% of people report insomnia by the end of the third trimester.” (source)

With that being said, there is a pretty darn good chance you will experience some degree of insomnia at some point in pregnancy.

I say all of this not to scare you or anger you or get you down. I say this so that you can be prepared if and when it happens to you. The remainder of the article will be spent talking about why pregnancy insomnia happens and more importantly, how you can cope with it.

Why does pregnancy insomnia happen?

You might have a good guess but let’s visit exactly why insomnia is so common in pregnancy. And while you have hormones to blame for a lot of it, it’s more than just that, especially in the third trimester.

In early pregnancy, hormones typically are the culprit for insomnia. Anytime there is a drastic shift in hormones, such as the case with pregnancy, it can wreak some havoc on your body. Fast forward to the third trimester and you not only have hormones all over the place but you have other fun things going on as well.  

Hormones aside, the third trimester just makes sleeping quite difficult. Between the general discomfort of a growing baby, pregnancy-related aches and pains, heartburn, and frequent bathroom breaks, sleep is hard to come by.

Not to fret, we’re getting to the good stuff – how to cope with and combat pregnancy insomnia. Keep on reading!

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How to combat pregnancy insomnia

The information you have been waiting for! Here are five ways you can combat pregnancy-related insomnia!

1. Pillows, pillows, and more pillows

I’m team gimme alllllll the pillows! The more, the better (in pregnancy), if you ask me! Whether it’s an actual pregnancy pillow (this one is my favorite) or just lots and lots of regular pillows, I’m a firm believer that pillows can enhance sleep.

In addition to a pregnancy pillow, this might be the time to upgrade your head pillow. A high-quality head pillow can make a big difference when it comes to sleep.

I personally have a Casper pillow but there are lots of good options out there. Treat yourself, mama, you deserve it!

2. Stay hydrated

This is particularly true for those of you who experience middle-of-the-night leg cramps. Water might help keep the leg cramps at bay but it’s a bit of a double-edged sword because guess what also might keep you up at night? Bathroom trips!

Do your best to stay hydrated throughout the day but limit excess water intake before bed. If you are thirsty at night, by all means, please do not deprive yourself!

3. Meditation

This one was a total game-changer for me during my pregnancies. There are tons of meditation apps out there you can download.

I recommend trying some guided meditations before bed. And remember, it might take a few times for you to notice a difference, so don’t give up if you don’t see results after one or two sessions.

The Expectful app actually has some guided mediations designed specifically for pregnant mamas!

4. Create a bedtime routine

This is something important to do whether you are pregnant or not. There’s a reason sleep routines work for (most) babies.

Well guess what, when it comes to sleep, we’re not that that different from babies (okay, maybe that’s a small exaggeration.) But really, bedtime routines totally work for adults too!

If you establish a bedtime routine, make sure you do it around the same time each night. Personalize it to your preferences and schedule but a big thing I recommend is to avoid screens for at least an hour before bed.

5. Exercise

There are so many benefits from exercise! Exercise can help reduce stress, increase physical fatigue, and promote hormone balance. All of these things can make it easier for you to catch some zzz’s!

It doesn’t have to be anything crazy or super strenuous either. Just get out there and get your body moving a little bit!

Want to learn more?

I have only scratched the surface of things you might experience during pregnancy! If you are thirsty for more pregnancy and birth-related content, I’ve got ya covered, mama! In addition to my blog, I have a podcast, instagram account (@mommy.labornurse), and a website full of tons of great information!

To learn more about MLN’s online birth courses (did I mention you get lifetime access) and get access to our free resources check us out here!

Cheers to an even better birth, mama!

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Liesel Teen, RN-BSN

Liesel Teen

BSN, RN, Practicing Labor and Delivery Nurse

As a labor and delivery nurse, I’ve spent countless hours with women who felt anxious — even fearful — about giving birth. I want you to know it doesn’t have to be that way for you!

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