It is ironic that insomnia can be such a struggle when pregnancy leaves you feeling exhausted. This pregnancy I struggled falling asleep and woke regularly with nightmares and couldn’t go back to sleep for hours.
My midwife recommended Unisom (considered one of the safest drugs during pregnancy, plus it fights morning sickness!) and I used it regularly for about two months. Eventually though, it lost its effectiveness, though I felt dependent on it.
Finding a pregnancy-safe alternative wasn’t as easy as I thought. Melatonin and valerian, two of my favorite insomnia helps, aren’t recommended during pregnancy. The melatonin might disrupt the growing baby’s natural production of melatonin and valerian is so strong that most doctors–and my midwife— feel more studying needs to be done before it’s safe to recommend.
After lots of prayer and research, wonderful advice from friends, and a talk with my midwife, we came up with a plan that has helped me so much.
I am not a doctor or a nurse. The only hospital I have ever worked at is a doll hospital. There, a band-aid can cure a heart attack. As always, please do you own research and talk to your health care provider.
Manage your expectations. When sleepless night follows sleepless night, it’s easy to let discouragement and fear creep in. Instead, put your expectations in Christ’s strength. Don’t dread going to bed. Trust that Jesus will give you the sleep you need and the strength to face the coming day even if you don’t sleep much.
Stop taking naps: when I’m pregnant few things sound better than a nap. However, if you struggle with insomnia, taking a nap can further compound the problem by throwing off the circadian rhythm that regulates your sleep. The first few days without naps were miserable (especially since I wasn’t sleeping well at night) but after a few days it did get better.
Exercise regularly. Exercise is good for your heart. It makes you feel more cheerful. Exercise curbs weight gain, naturally increases iron in your blood, and helps combat “diseases of affluence.” Plus, regular exercise helps get your body tired so you can fall asleep at night. Do a pregnancy work-out, take a good walk, or swim. Getting regular exercise will help fight insomnia. Just make sure to exercise in the morning or early to mid-afternoon so your body has time to cool down before bed. [Here's how I find time to exercise with little ones.]
Establish a good sleep schedule. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each morning. In the evenings, establish a “going to bed” routine that helps you relax and unwind. As bedtime approaches, force yourself to yawn. Soon, it will be natural and seems to help me get sleepy.
Spend time outside in the afternoon. Getting afternoon sun can help regulate your sleep cycle. (Here’s what I do to get Vitamin D while avoiding sunburns.)
Take 1/2 tsp blackstrap molasses before bed. A friend recommended this to me and said it worked wonders for her. Blackstrap molasses is often recommended during pregnancy as a high source of usable iron and calcium.
Drink chamomile tea before going to bed. Many sleep-inducing herbs aren’t considered safe during pregnancy, but chamomile is an exception. Chamomile isn’t as strong as valerian, but it does help sooth the nerves.
Drink warm milk before going to bed. Warm milk has been recommended as a sleep aid for ages. Why it works is still up for debate (it may be mostly psychological) but the calcium in it could also help your body naturally produce melatonin. Whatever the reason, it does seem to work and if you add a dash of nutmeg it tastes quite good.
Get enough calcium and magnesium. Waking up in the middle of the night unable to fall back asleep is miserable. It could be caused by a lack of calcium or magnesium. James F. Balch, M.D. writes that “A lack of the nutrients calcium and magnesium will cause you to wake up after a few hours and not be able to return to sleep.”
Why? These minerals help calm the nerves and encourage sleep [and prevent night terrors in children.] According to William Sears, M.D, “Calcium helps the brain use the amino acid tryptophan to manufacture the sleep-inducing substance melatonin. This explains why dairy products, which contain both tryptophan and calcium, are one of the top sleep-inducing foods.”
Relax and breathe. My friend Kristy reminded me of just how important this was and it sure helped. My favorite relaxation technique is one a dear midwife friend taught me. While laying in bed, start with your head and relax each part of your body all the way down to your toes. (Then, if you want, start at your toes and work up to your head.) It’s amazing how much tension you can unconsciously build up in your forehead or shoulders.
Have a midnight plan (i.e. if you can’t sleep, get up.) Laying in bed for hours desperately wishing you could sleep isn’t very helpful. After several nights, I was almost afraid to fall asleep because I was dreading waking up at 2:30 a.m. If you don’t fall back asleep after 20 or 30 minutes, get up and do something calming (like ironing or folding laundry while listening to the Bible or a book on tape) until you’re sleepy. Having a plan makes falling asleep much easier and waking up less miserable.
(Another optional, though highly helpful strategy, is to get a cold. Lol! I’ve never been quite so grateful to come down with a cold. It made me just sleepy enough at night to be able to fall asleep easily.)
Do you struggle with insomnia? What’s your favorite way to combat it?
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