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Improving your sleep in pregnancy

** Please note that although I am a midwife and commonly recommend these tips to my clients, I do not know YOUR individual picture. I recommend that you discuss alternative and allopathic remedies included in this blog post with your health care provider before moving forward**

This information is for those struggling to fall asleep or who wake in the night and can't get back to sleep. Or perhaps you sleep just fiiiine, but it's not particularly restful sleep.

Questions to ask yourself:

Is my sleep restful?

What time am I typically falling asleep and waking up?

What activity am I typically doing immediately before bed? The hour before bed?

(ie: TV, scrolling through social media, stretching, reading, responding to work e-mails, wrangling children)

What is my sleeping environment like? (Most points in this post assume that you have a bed to sleep in and have some control over a bedtime routine. I know this is not always the case.)

When I lay awake at night, is there a pattern to my thinking? How does my body feel in response to these thoughts? (ie: Do I have a headache, heart palpitations, or feel my stomach's in knots?)

What did I eat/drink today? Did I eat mostly whole foods, or processed foods? When was the last time that I had caffeine?

Maybe pre-pregnancy you could drink coffee at 4 pm and have no problem sleeping at night. Try not to consume caffeine after noon. Even if consumed before noon, your body may be responding differently to caffeine since being pregnant. Challenge yourself to decrease caffeine consumption, including coffee, chocolate, black and green tea.

General “sleep hygiene”:

  • NO screen time a minimum of 30 minutes before bed, but preferably 1-2 hours before bed

  • Dim the overhead lights in your bedroom an hour before bed to unwind

  • Lots of pillows for support/comfort

  • Journal (more below) or meditate before bed instead of playing on your phone. Set a timer for 10 minutes, or free write to your heart’s content. "Headspace" is an app for meditation if you're seeking guidance.

  • Turn down thermostat

  • If you have other children, assess the sleeping situation. Does everyone sleep together? Do kids come into bed during the night? How is this impacting your sleep in a beneficial or disruptive way?

~ A few notes on bedtime as an emotionally daunting time ~

The outside world has slowed down, but our internal worlds spin on and on. To lay in bed with your thoughts, struggling to sleep... THIS CAN BE SCARY.

Sometimes we consume social media on our phones and watch TV shows to "wind down", when oftentimes we're avoiding being consumed by our own self-doubts, worries, and overwhelming reality. And sometimes we want to watch TV and it's like, "There's no deep reason behind this, sister." Whatever's clever.

I'm currently in the midst of finishing The Office series. So, yeah, I get how flipping on a screen can bring joy and laughter and time passes smoothly by, unburdened.

You do you. Part of caring for yourself, though, may mean posing the question of, "How do I FEEL when I'm scrolling through my phone to pass time? How do I feel when I turn it off and stare up at the ceiling?"

For others, bedtime may inspire anxiety because it's generally a time where partners are in close physical proximity, sometimes for the first time all day. This may be a bonding time for some, and a dreaded time for others. Perhaps you and your partner have been fighting, and now you've got to lay beside them. Or perhaps your partner wants to have sex, and you don't, and this is a point of contention for you guys.

I could go on about why falling asleep is complex. I dive into certain topics to show you that a slew of social and emotional factors can influence your ability to fall asleep and sleep well. Moving onto the next point now!

Herbs and essential oils (EO) before bed:

  • Chamomile, passionflower, lemon balm, skullcap (teas or tinctures to ingest)

  • Skullcap tincture: 1-10 drops directly under the tongue or in 2 oz of warm water

  • Chamomile infusion for tea (steeped for 30 mins)

  • EO combo: lavender, cedarwood, vetiver, roman chamomile

  • Diffuse or make a room spray w/ distilled water (shake and spray)

  • Apply to bottom of your feet and pulse points 30 mins before bed. Combine with a “carrier oil” like coconut or almond instead of placing the oil directly on your skin. Do not ingest.

Other goodies to consume before bed: More details in Ellen B’s blog, linked below.

  • 2 oz shot of tart cherry juice 30 mins before bed

  • “Natural Calm” magnesium powder (can also alleviate or prevent with leg cramps and ease constipation)

  • 8 oz bone broth

Waking in the night or insomnia:

  • Consume small spoonful of raw honey with sea salt sprinkled on it

  • Walk outside barefoot before bed, or in the middle of the night (DO IT!)

  • Stop drinking water 1 hr before bed. This doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t need to rise and pee, though

  • You may think you’re waking because you need to pee, but it could be due to low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Keep a protein snack near your bed, like nuts

  • Take a warm bath before bed, or in the middle of the night

  • Ensure adequate B vitamin intake

  • Consider journaling or other creative outlet. It can be difficult to break the habit patterns of our mind, lying awake and thinking repetitive and seemingly endless thoughts. Journaling is just one way to express these thoughts. Consider grabbing a drawing or painting tool, and go at it on a blank piece of paper. Maybe a conversation you need to have with a partner, friend or co-worker will come to light. Maybe you’ll feel emotions move through you instead of swimming around in your brain space. You don’t know until you try.

  • Journal prompts:

  • Letter to your baby

  • Letter to yourself to read the next morning

  • 3 things you're afraid of, 3 things you're grateful for, 3 reasons you're proud of yourself

Safe over the counter medications (OTC): Benadryl and Unisom (doxylamine succinate)

  • Do not take either of these medications for more than 2 weeks at a time!

  • *Please note that antihistamines may slow breast milk production when taking them*

  • As you've seen in this post, there are seemingly endless reasons why you may not be sleeping well. OTC medications are not my first line of defense because they typically don't address the root cause behind your sleep woes.

Annnnd, last but definitely not least...

ADDRESS UNDERLYING ISSUES: (ask your provider for recommendations catered to YOU)

Heartburn - Raise head of the bed; avoid heavy foods before bedtime; ingest papaya enzymes

Body aches - Gentle stretching; hydration; awareness of body mechanic/posture throughout day; seek out body work like massage and chiropractic; rule out an illness

Hypoglycemia - Eat a snack before bed; discuss regulating blood sugar with your provider

Sciatica - Body work like chiropractic care; St. John’s Wort tincture

Round ligament pain - Bend toward the point of pain to allow muscle to relax; massage area with castor oil; apply a hot water bottle to the area; avoid sudden movements that involve outward movements of legs

Stress and anxiety - General recommendations included here may help. Discuss with provider to fit your individual needs (I sound like a broken record with this one).

Happy sleeping and gestating!

Many recommendations inspired by Aviva Romm’s blog posts, Ann Frye’s “Holistic Midwfery: Care During Pregnancy,” responses from the Kitsap community, and Ellen Barnard’s (local birth worker) blog post on sleep:

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