Many pregnant women wonder why they are subjected to restless nights, especially in the last trimester. The reason is simple -- to prepare them for the many sleepless nights they will get after baby is born! Even though you may be suffering from aching legs, back pain and other discomforts, there are certain things you can do to fall asleep faster and to sleep better.
Carolyn Davis

Slowing down
Eliminate caffeine (tea, soda, coffee and chocolate) from your diet, or at least reduce the quantity. Caffeine is a stimulant and will keep you awake, and experts are not sure of the effects of caffeine on baby. Especially if you're having any problems sleeping, it's something best to avoid.

Don't exercise late in the day. Pregnant women should exercise during pregnancy (under the advice of their healthcare provider) -- and a workout at least three hours before bedtime may help you fall asleep. Be warned, though, that your body will build up energy right after exercise, making it difficult to fall asleep if you work out too close to bedtime. However, light stretching or yoga exercises coupled with deep breathing exercises right before bed can relax some women, and will help to work out painful kinks in the neck and back.

Try to wake up and go to sleep at the same time every day. The body's internal clock will then learn to signal you when it is time to go to sleep.

Getting -- and staying -- comfortable

Don't eat a large meal before going to bed. A large meal may sit in the stomach, making it difficult to fall asleep and increase heartburn. Throughout pregnancy, it is recommended that you eat several smaller meals rather than fewer large ones. Sandy Lewis, expecting her first child in May, said, "I eat a light meal before bedtime to ease hunger pains, and keep crackers near the bed in case I wake up from hunger."

Keep liquids to a minimum at night. Otherwise, you may experience the joy of nocturia -- excessive nighttime urination. This is not uncommon, but an inconvenience that can interfere with sleep. You can minimize the effects by reducing your fluid intake in the evening. Sandy noted, "I don't drink fluids after 7pm to minimize my trips to the restroom."

Make sure you have plenty of pillows in the bed, or try a maternity pillow. The best position for sleeping is on your left side with legs bent at the knee and hip. Support the stomach and lower back with pillows, and try two pillows between the thighs and calves. This positioning will alleviate pressure off the back and provide optimal blood circulation to mother and baby. You should not worry if you awaken to find yourself on your back -- we change sleeping positions many times at night. Simply reposition yourself and go back to sleep. (You can switch between the right and left side-sleeping positions, though the left side offers the best blood flow.)

Dealing with aches and pains. You might be awakened by round ligament stretching or leg cramps. For round ligament pain, take some deep breaths, and, when you're the pain has eased, reposition your body to go back to sleep. Leg cramps, which may be caused by the weight of your uterus on nerves or blood vessels to your legs, can be alleviated by flexing your foot (don't point your toes) and massaging your calf muscle. You might also try getting out of bed and walking around, or put your feet flat on the floor and bend your knees. Some evidence suggests that gentle calf stretches before bed as well as increasing calcium in your diet may help prevent these cramps.

Placing some books on the floor to raise the top of the bed a couple inches will help ease heartburn and possibly the stuffy nose from which some women suffer. The opposite of this -- raising the lower end of the bed a couple inches -- might help to ease varicose veins and swelling of the legs and ankles.

Consider ways to make frequent bathroom trips less disruptive. Joyce Crane, the mother of two, recalled, "I slept on the side of the bed closest to the bathroom door. I also kept a night-light on and made sure the floor was uncluttered when I went to bed to insure that I wouldn't trip over anything when getting out of bed."



Relaxing

Don't watch television or read things that might upset you right before bed. Such images can cause you to think or worry too much right before bed, making it difficult to fall asleep.

Keep your bedroom for sleeping. Dedicate your bedroom to sleeping -- don't read or watch TV in bed -- and working in the bedroom is also a no-no. Also try not to lie in bed awake for more than fifteen or twenty minutes, in case your mind begins to associate your bed with sleeplessness.

Keep noise in the bedroom to a minimum. Mothers-to-be can do this by running a fan, playing soft music or investing in a sound soothing device that plays white noise, such as ocean waves or falling rain. If you don't already have children, you might want to try ear plugs.

Make your bed as comfortable as possible. A good mattress and soft cotton sheets in soothing colors can be extremely helpful in providing quality sleep. Most women sleep better if they are not too warm, so keeping the room temperature cooler than you do by day and wearing cotton pajamas to bed will keep you comfortable.

Take a warm (not hot) bath. Light some candles and soak in lavender and oils. (Remember not to take a hot bath, because raising the body temperature too high is not good for baby. In addition, do not take a bath if your water has broken.) Be careful getting in and out of the bathtub so you do not slip -- a real possibility since your center of gravity has shifted and your body mass has increased significantly. Make sure you have a dry rug or bathmat near the tub.

Try relaxation techniques before going to bed to help get a good night's rest. Try listening to soft music, breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, and aromatherapy -- all are great in soothing the body and spirit. Furthermore, getting a back or foot massage can help ease the tension that keeps women awake at night (and they're a great way to involve your partner in your pregnancy).

Sweet dreams
Some women still cannot fall asleep even after trying these techniques. This is common, and not something to worry about. Simply get out of bed after 20 or 30 minutes and go read a book, drink a glass of warm milk or chamomile tea, write in a journal or engage in another relaxing activity. If you find that you're consistently not getting enough sleep or are having other difficulties (including shortness of breath or gasping for breath), consult with your healthcare provider.

Under certain circumstances, some women will be prescribed something to help them sleep. However, medication of any kind should be used as a last resort and only on on the advice of a medical professional.

A mom-to-be should spend her months relaxing and enjoying this special time. Hopefully these tips will help keep sleep problems from getting in the way of a happy pregnancy. Sweet dreams!PregnancyAndBaby.com

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