But First …..Sleep!!!!!
“I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I'm awake, you know?”
― Ernest Hemingway
Unfortunately many women report having trouble getting enough good sleep during pregnancy - especially in the final few weeks. If this is you and you choose only one thing to focus on in terms of improving your health during pregnancy, let it be improving the quality and quantity of your sleep.
Quite simply, getting a good night's sleep it is the foundation of good health for both you and baby. Inadequate sleep in expectant mothers has been linked with depression, higher levels of inflammation and complications at birth, including low birth weight and preterm births. It seems that poor sleep patterns may even affect our experience of labour. A study published in 2010 stated ‘In summary, on the basis of the limited data, there appears to be an association between short sleep duration and adverse maternal and foetal outcomes. Specifically, women who are sleep deprived during pregnancy may experience longer labor, more pain and discomfort during labor, higher rates of preterm labor and cesarean section.’
Sleep is the primary regulator of or hormones and our hormones regulate our pregnancy as well as just about everything else including our moods, our appetite, our immune systems as well as a whole host of other critical day to day elements of our lives. You simply can not achieve optimum health for you and baby without first taking care of your sleep.
There are lots of ways you can help yourself out, simple lifestyle changes can really make the difference. The National Institutes of Health urge pregnant women to avoid sleeping drugs entirely as no prescription sleep aid has a safe A rating for use during pregnancy.
Always speak to your healthcare provider before making any big lifestyle changes and before taking any medications or supplements.
Get some sunshine in your life
Our bodies have an internal clock that tells us when it’s time to shut down for the night and when to stay awake. If we spend our whole day indoors this clock can get out of sink and we struggle with sleep and energy levels. To keep your bodies natural circadian rhythms healthy make sure to spend some time in the outdoors daily.
Switch it off
Just as sunlight helps keep our rhythms healthy, excess light in the evenings can have the opposite effect. The worst kind of light for messing with our body rhythms is ‘blue light’ emitted from TV’s, laptops and phones. The best option is to power down all devices a couple of hours before bed but if you really can’t do this then download a filter or app that blocks the blue light from your device. Electromagnetic fields from wifi and bluetooth have also been linked to insomnia, anxiety and other health concerns. Governments in France, Belgium, Canada and others offer warnings and recommendations to limit their populations' EMF exposures, especially children's, so disconnecting your devices from the network for the night is a good choice too.
Cut the afternoon coffee.
If you are still drinking caffeine in pregnancy then try and keep it to the mornings only. (Pregnant women should limit caffeine intake to less than 200 mg per day. This is equal to about one 12 oz cup of coffee - American Pregnancy Association.) Studies show that consuming caffeine up to six hours before bed can significantly worsened sleep quality because of its stimulating effect on the nervous system. Beware of purchasing brewed coffee from a coffee shop that may have been sat stewing for hours, purchasing a drink with a single shot of coffee is a much safer way of ensuring dont get more caffeine than you bargained for.
Keep it regular
Getting your body into a routine can really help settle those circadian rhythms into a good consistent pattern of quality sleep. Set an alarm to remind yourself to get to bed and another alarm to wake up at a regular time, aim for at least 8 hours, more if you can.
Is your bedroom the most conducive it can be to a healthy nights rest? When creating a sleeping environment think of it like building a beautiful nest for yourself and enjoy the process. A pregnancy pillow can help you get comfortable or simply pop a pillow between the thighs. Investing in blackout blinds or curtains is something you will never regret, alternatively get yourself an eye mask (great for postpartum power naps in the middle of the day.) Set the temperature slightly lower than normal - you are literally an incubator right now and you will tend to run hot at night. Open the window a crack for some fresh air and consider diffusing some lavender to help set the mood. During postpartum you may feel the urge to warm the body with extra blankets and hot water bottles depending on the time of year. I love drifting off to some gentle music or white noise as this will help mask other small night time noises.
Clean your slate
Anxiety is a leading cause of restless nights in pregnant women so before you lay your head down for the night practice what I call “cleaning your slate!” This basically means getting anything off your chest that’s bothering you. Make a to-do list for tomorrow, talk to your partner and/or keep a journal, writing down just a few thoughts before bed can really help free things up. Even if you can’t resolve issues right now then writing them down or talking about them takes away some of their power and allows the brain to let go of them.
The new 2019 Canadian guidelines for physical activity during pregnancy state ‘Pregnant women should accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate - high intensity physical activity each week to achieve clinically meaningful health benefits and reductions in pregnancy complications” Time and time again studies have linked moderate exercise with establishing healthy sleep patterns. Note that I say moderate exercise like walking, yoga or an easy swim (vigorous workouts are not as soothing to our systems.) Again it’s all about hose natural rhythms so don’t exercise late in the evening as your body wants to be preparing for sleep by then. For the full guidelines on exercise during pregnancy see the resources section bellow.
Eat up, drink up
Eating a healthy balanced meal in the evening, include some healthy animal protein and carbohydrates like sweet potato or other veggies to help reduce cortisol (stress hormone) levels. Make sure your finished with eating a few hours before bed and eat enough so your not waking up hungry. If you have problems with getting up to pee many times in the night (common in the third trimester) then try to take in all your fluids during the day and stop drinking a couple of hours before bed.
Herbs, Supplements and Essential oils:
The following sleep aids have all been shown to be safe for use in pregnant women. Speak to your health care provider before starting to take any new supplements.
Magnesium. Magnesium is known as ‘nature’s tranquilliser’, so it can be invaluable if you are suffering from tension and/or stress. It’s also a good basic treatment for insomnia. There Usually available in powder form to have as a drink mixed with water before bed.
Chamomile can assist with regulating anxiety, fear, and severe mood swings. Camomile tea is an age old sleep remedy, drink a mug in the evening as you wind down for the night. Camomile essential oil can be diffused in the bedroom or apply a few drops to cotton wool and inhale. Can assist with regulating anxiety, fear, and severe mood swings
Lavender is a wonderful multipurpose oil with a soothing and calming effect. Add a few drops in a diffuser, or to a bath or dilute with a carrier oil (2-3 drops to every tablespoon of carrier oil) and ask your partner to give you a foot rub.
Do NOT ingest any essential oil during pregnancy and ALWAYS dilute before applying to the skin. Essential oils are best avoided in the first trimester. Always seek the advise of a professional aromatherapist if you are interested in supporting your health and your pregnancy with essential oils.
Sleep Deprivation during Pregnancy and Maternal and Fetal Outcomes: Is There a Relationship?
The Canadian guidelines for exercise during pregnancy 2019
MedLine Article from The Institute of National Health - Problems sleeping during Pregnancy
The Med. Balancing Drugs, Risks and Benefits
Magnesium Supplements in Pregnancy
Oils 4 Life, safe use of essential oils in pregnancy
Doula Canada learning materials from ‘Holistic Practices and Knowledge’ were referenced in the construction of this article