I never realised how much I’d taken for granted my blissful, uncomplicated relationship with sleep until it was cruelly wrenched away. In the first few weeks of my pregnancy I watched myself turn from a generally positive and energetic person to a bleary-eyed grump who would wake up wondering how to get through the day on only one coffee.
The really hard part was that at this point, no one at work or any of my friends knew I was pregnant, so I couldn’t confide in anyone the reason I had turned into a cantankerous old slug who would lie on the sofa from 7pm every day.
It turns out that pregnancy insomnia is very common. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, it affects 78% of pregnant women, for a variety of reasons. I asked Ellie Richardson, a midwife from St Mary’s Hospital, London why women get insomnia during pregnancy. “It may well be your body preparing you for when the little one arrives,” Ellie said. “Good sleep ensures that our body is fully rested, which is especially important during pregnancy. Poor sleep in pregnancy is mainly due to conscious or subconscious worries about the next stage of your life, particularly towards the end of the pregnancy. This – on top of a growing bump causing discomfort and regular trips to the toilet – means that women often become restless during the night. It’s important to make sure you're resting during the day as much as possible to make up for this, because continuous lack of sleep along with extra causes of stress creates a higher risk of developing mental health issues, such as antenatal depression.”
I also spoke to Katie Stockdale, who is a qualified hypnobirthing practitioner based in Leyton, east London. She said that one of the most common reasons for tiredness and sleep-related issues are changes in hormone levels: “These are more apparent in the first and last trimester. Hormonal changes in the body can be one of the reasons for more frequent trips to the loo and can result in increased reports of snoring, heartburn as well as other pregnancy-related discomforts, all of which impacts on quality of sleep and can mean regular night awakenings for some mamas. Easy enough if you roll over and go back to sleep but that’s not always the case!”
When it came to practically dealing with the insomnia, I asked Ellie what she recommends to the women she works with. “Some women like to work on natural remedies during pregnancy to help them sleep,” she said. “If it is worries keeping a woman up at night, talking with a professional or even a friend or family member can help to clear the mind before sleep. Some women enjoy bonding with their unborn baby before bed, stroking their bump or talking to the baby to help create positive thoughts. It's important to find what works for you and what makes you feel most relaxed.”
I actually found lots of support from friends who had suffered with non-pregnancy insomnia at points in their lives and who were on hand to provide solace and really great advice. Below, I’ve pulled their suggestions together to form a pregnant insomniac’s survival kit. I hope it helps!
Walk for 30 minutes a day
As part of preparation for birth I read that it’s really important women walk for 30 minutes a day and keep active. It keeps all your joints working and the baby in a good position, especially as you get further along into the pregnancy. I also found that walking into work after not sleeping and getting some fresh air woke me up and made me feel more positive about the day ahead.
Practise yoga for 30 minutes a day, preferably before bed
Yoga is an amazing way to start or end the day. Katie says: “If you can, find a good pregnancy yoga class or a pregnancy relaxation class. If that’s not available to you or you want a daily practice, then consider a guided meditation or a yoga nidra every night before bed, or in the night when you find yourself awake. Twenty minutes in this deeply relaxed state is very nourishing for the body and has amazing benefits for your nervous system akin to 2-3 hours of sleep.”
We all know having a bath is a good way to relax but I’ve made it part of my nightly routine and it really helps, especially if accompanied by some relaxing tunes. These bath salts are amazing with a few drops of Bio-Oil added in, while this Johnson’s Bedtime Baby Bath is very relaxing and smells of lavender.
Rice milk with nutmeg
I read this tip in my favourite pregnancy book (The Gentle Birth Method by Dr. Gowri Motha) and it’s so good; you just get half a mug of rice milk, grate some nutmeg in and then blast in the microwave.
A lot of tips I read to combat insomnia were around making your bedroom a really special sleep oasis in your desert of sleeplessness and I would recommend getting a Himalayan salt lamp – they make your room feel so cosy and are such a nice way of having soft, warm light in your bedroom before you sleep.
I became slightly obsessed with the children’s story of Sleepy Paws, a tired koala bear, on the Calm app – much to the amusement of my husband. But it definitely worked; zoning out for 15 minutes before bed and forcing your brain to focus on something (anything) else really helps.
Good eye cream and concealer
Investing in a good eye cream and under-eye concealer is imperative. Fake it 'til you make it, mamas. The most important thing is to try and maintain a positive perspective: Accept that you haven’t slept and that it’s okay, and really push the self-belief that you can get through this – eventually, the cycle does break.