What causes insomnia in pregnancy?

Insomnia is a problem many pregnant women will be familiar with. As your body goes through all the changes pregnancy brings, it can become difficult to get a good night’s sleep, particularly during the early months.

Our doctors are here to help you find what’s causing your insomnia and try new ways to make sleep a little bit easier.

While there are many possible causes of insomnia that can affect anyone, there are a number of triggers that are specific to pregnant women. These include:

Hormonal changes

As your body adjusts to pregnancy, it can be quite hard to relax at night. In particular, your body temperature might go up and down, so you might need to invest in thinner blankets in case you feel warm during the night.

Having to get up in the night

Despite its name, morning sickness can strike at any time of day. Unfortunately, this may mean you have to dash for the toilet in the middle of the night. Indigestion is another common digestive issue for pregnant women, as your growing baby puts pressure on your stomach.

This pressure can affect your bladder, too, which means you’ll need to pee more often, including at night.

Difficulty getting comfortable

Back pain, breast tenderness, leg cramps and shortness of breath are just some of the issues that pregnant women might have to deal with. These are never more noticeable than when you’re trying to get to sleep.


There are lots of reasons why an expectant mum might be anxious. Worries about labour, the health of your baby and (if it’s your first child) the prospect of being a parent can all creep into your head, just when you should be drifting off to sleep.

How to improve sleep during pregnancy

Now that we’ve seen what can keep you from a good night’s rest, we can look at ways in which you can tackle these problems and make sure you get all the sleep you need. Here are a few strategies you can try:

Have a routine

Whenever possible, you should aim to go to bed and get up at roughly the same time each day. This allows your body to get into a consistent circadian rhythm, so you’re naturally ready for sleep at night time.

Get comfortable

It might take a bit of trial and error, but finding the sleeping position that’s most comfortable for you is essential to getting enough sleep. There are pregnancy pillows available that will provide support and comfort that’s specific to your needs.

Create the perfect sleep environment

If you’re bothered by light or noise, get an eye mask and some ear plugs so that you get the peace and quiet you need. Set the thermostat to a temperature that you’re comfortable sleeping in and make sure your mattress and pillows are comfy enough.

Take a warm bath

This is a great way to soothe your muscles and relax your mind. Don’t have the water too hot though, as this can have a negative effect on your baby. Keep it below 38C.

Don’t drink too much water too close to bedtime

While you don’t want to go to bed thirsty, taking on too much water right before you head to bed is only going to have one result. If you want to lower your chances of having to get up in the night for a pee, start moderating your water intake as the evening goes on.

Get regular exercise

Exercise is a good way to use up energy and make sure you’re ready for bed by the end of the day, however the issue of exercise during pregnancy is a complex one.

How much can you do without harming yourself or your baby? What’s the best exercise for pregnant women? Our doctors have answered all these questions and more here.

Don’t toss and turn

If you can’t sleep, get up and read in another room for a while, until you start to feel drowsy. Lying awake and staring at the ceiling will just make you more anxious about not being able to drop off.

Don’t nap for too long

If you feel sleepy during the day, it’s fine to take a little nap. However, try not to let them go on too long, as this will mean you won’t be sleepy later.

How can our doctors help?

If self-care doesn’t get rid of your insomnia, our doctors can recommend effective treatment options. Often, these will be aimed at treating the underlying cause of your insomnia. Sleeping tablets are usually only prescribed as a last resort, or a short term solution until proper treatment can begin.

As an example, if anxiety about your pregnancy is stopping you from sleeping, our doctors can refer you to a mental health specialist for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Here, you’ll learn how to manage your feelings and stop them getting in the way of your sleep.

You can book an appointment 7 days a week and see a doctor online from the comfort of your own home.

Can insomnia in pregnancy harm your baby?

While not being able to sleep can be very frustrating for you, insomnia itself won’t harm your baby.

However, the effects of insomnia can make it difficult for you to concentrate and stay alert during the day, which increases your risk of accidents, such as a fall. This sort of accident could pose a risk to your baby’s health, so it’s important to deal with insomnia as soon as you notice the symptoms.

Will sleeping tablets work?

While it may be tempting to try an over-the-counter solution to your insomnia, this is a poor substitute for seeing a doctor. You have to be sure the pharmacist is aware you are pregnant as some medications may not be advised in pregnancy.

Sleeping pills won’t fix your insomnia in the long term.

They are rarely used in pregnancy but clinicians have to weigh up the benefits against the risks.

In fact, they may have side effects that could make you feel even worse. Even if it feels like they’re working, all they’ll do is mask the real underlying cause of your sleeplessness, leaving it untreated and potentially getting worse.

Don’t forget that it’s also always a good idea to speak to a doctor before taking any new medication while you’re pregnant.

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Updated: July 30, 2019