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How to Sleep During Pregnancy?

Last Updated on April 20, 2020 by Ashwini G

Pregnancy has a way of throwing your life out of gear. Simple facts about the lifestyle that you took for granted suddenly become impossible to tackle. Your body experiences far too many changes mostly uncomfortable ones in a short duration in this wonderful period. Sleep and sleep position during pregnancy becomes even more important. You want to be more careful about everything. Even the tiniest change that can help you and your baby become more comfortable and safer during this intimate journey together is more than welcome. It provides the much-needed comfort and rests that you as a mother require coping with the growing demands on your body. Unfortunately sleeping during pregnancy is easier said than done. Chances are you will be struggling to get even the bare minimum sleep hours let alone sleep luxuriously. Sleep positions make a lot of difference, but most are ruled out as dangerous. The good news is that you can catch up on that beauty sleep even with all the restrictions.

Sleeping During Pregnancy

Most women wonder how to sleep during pregnancy. They struggle to understand the positions that are best suited and the safest for the baby and themselves. Add the stress and anxiety that normally come with pregnancy and you have a bundle of sleep issues on your hands. A survey by the National Sleep Foundation concluded that 78% of women have more trouble sleeping during pregnancy than when they were not. Also, almost 15% experienced restless leg syndrome during their third trimester. Some factors that hamper sleep during pregnancy are:

  • Increased fatigue and anxiety
  • Leg cramps and restless leg syndrome
  • The effort of carrying around extra weight
  • Hormonal changes
  • Frequent urination urge
  • Gastro-oesophageal reflux (GERD) or heartburn

Though you cannot control the way your body deals with pregnancy you can still improve the quality of sleep and catch up on the much-required sleep.

What Is the Best Sleep Position During Pregnancy?

To be blunt the safest sleeping position for you throughout your pregnancy is sleeping on your side. It’s the “SOS” position. Sleeping on the left side is your best bet. You will find that the side position is not only the safest but also the most comfortable especially in the third trimester. The “SOS” position helps you to:

  • Maximize both the blood flow and the flow of nutrients to the placenta
  • Puts less pressure on the “vena cava” thereby ensuring continued blood supply
  • Improves kidney function thereby enabling better waste elimination
  • Reduced swelling in hands and feet
  • 7% reduced risk of stillbirth
  • The liver is not pressured with the expanding weight of the mother to be

Apart from these benefits the SOS position also helps the baby to grow and develop. This is because lying on the side improves blood circulation by easing pressure on the “vena cava” vein. Hence the baby gets maximum nutrition through the placenta helping the baby grow. Your sleep position during pregnancy matters and it matters immensely.

Does it Matter Which Side You Sleep on During Pregnancy?

Not really when it comes down to it. It’s a popular belief that the “left” side is “right” when pregnant but there is little theory behind it except that sleeping on the left side will keep the pressure off your liver. If you want to and feel that you are more comfortable sleeping on the right side, you can go ahead without much fear. There is no difference in the stillbirth statistics between the left and right side sleeping. Even though the left and the right side does not matter in the effects of sleep position during pregnancy debate other independent factors can help you decide. These include:

  • Right side sleeping is associated with better heart function. It also improves the sympathetic nervous system and stabilizes blood pressure.
  • Left side sleeping, as per improves digestion, lowers heartburn, improves blood circulation, and relieves back pain.

The Second-Best Sleep Position During Pregnancy

You are probably wondering about the other most favorable sleep positions during pregnancy and if there are positions you need to avoid? Different types of sleeping positions are:

  • Sleeping on your tummy
  • Sleeping on your back
  • Three quarter position

Out of these, it’s best to avoid sleeping on the tummy and your back during pregnancy. Medically according to You can continue to sleep on your tummy throughout pregnancy. After side sleeping, sleeping on your belly is the safest option. The fetus is well protected in the amniotic sac surrounded by the placenta and feels very little pressure. There is no chance of hurting the baby at all. However, from the second trimester onwards you should consider avoiding sleeping on your stomach. This is because with the increased belly you will not be able to handle the added pressure to the stomach leading to a restless night. The three-quarter position is one where you would prop your body, lounging on the side with plenty of pillows supporting your position. This position aims at making side sleeping comfortably with a twist. Considering that it is an offshoot of side sleeping this sleep position has no complications except maybe depriving your spouse of pillows.

What Happens If You Sleep on Your Stomach During Pregnancy?

Although sleeping on the tummy has no medical side effects on your baby, sleeping on your back does. Some of the studied risks are:

  • Increased risk of stillbirth especially after the 28th week
  • Amplified heartburn
  • More pressure on the “vena cava” thereby reducing blood circulation
  • Greater stress on the lower back causing backaches
  • Breathlessness
  • Increased risk of developing hemorrhoids

Looking at the above complications it is advisable to avoid sleeping on your back especially after the first trimester and it’s an absolute no after the 28th week.

Do Mother’s Sleep Position Affects the Risk of Stillbirth?

One of the biggest and most horrible fears of a mother to be is a stillbirth. It is prevalent enough to cause you anxiety and sleeplessness. India has the highest number of stillbirths. WHO estimates it to 22 per 1000 total births. There are numerous reasons for this including demographic, socio-economic and medical conditions with the sleep position during pregnancy being just one of them. As per research, there is a very direct correlation between sleep positions and the risk of stillbirth. That said you can understand the need to choose carefully how you are sleeping.

Can the Research be Trusted?

In one word “Yes”. A lot of research has gone into maternal sleep positions during pregnancy. There is a lot of hype on media with many women calling this as unnecessary “scaremongering”. But given the similar conclusions arrived at by almost all the studies the fact remains that sleeping on the side is safest. Other sleep positions can have very dangerous effects on both the mother and the baby. Some of the researches conducted with stillbirths are:

  • Research trial in New Zealand in 2011 linked stillbirth with the way mother’s slept
  • In 2015 a Sidney Research reached the same conclusion.
  • MiNESS study also proved that women sleeping on their backs were twice as likely to have a stillbirth.
  • There is also a direct correlation between baby birth weight and the mother’s sleeping position:
  • For back sleepers, the average birth weight of babies was 3.14 kg
  • Side sleepers clocked an average birth weight of 3.55 kg

During Pregnancy, Is Waking Up on Your Back during the Night Cause for Panic?

So, you read up on all the information and decided to sleep only on your left side but woke up on your back? Don’t worry. Your intentions only govern your waking moments. You will find yourself tossing and turning multiple times during snoozing. This is perfectly normal and even encouraged. Good intentions aside you cannot stop yourself from sliding to your back when asleep. When you do wake up and find yourself sleeping on your back, don’t panic. You should be sensible about the risks involved but don’t cross over to paranoia. There is no need to do anything more than just turn on the side and fall right back to sleep. The very fact that you woke up is your body’s way of telling you that something is off. So just trust your instincts and get as much sleep as you possibly can.

Tips to Help You Get Started on the SOS Position During Pregnancy

If you are used to sleeping on your back or your stomach it can be very difficult to suddenly switch to sleeping on your side. Sleep position during pregnancy matters but comfort matters as well. Sleep is all about finding the right comfort zone for your body to relax and unwind. Some tips that can help you adjust to the side position better are:

  • Try tying your hair in a nape. This will automatically make sleeping on your back uncomfortable forcing you to switch
  • Check your sleeping position when you wake up at night and consciously go back to sleep on the side. This will train your body into remembering which position you want to sleep in
  • Sleep on your side during your daytime naps as well
  • Use pillows behind you to prevent you from sliding to your back. You can also use the wedge-shaped pillows or a body pillow.
  • You can also place a pillow between your knees to provide improved back support
  • If Side sleeping is causing you shortness of breath you can try putting a pillow under your chest to ease the breathlessness.

When You Are Unable to Sleep During Pregnancy

Discussing and telling you all about the optimal sleep position is all very well and good but what happens when you cannot sleep at all? Sleep-related problems are very common during pregnancy. Though sleep deprivation will cause increased stress, fatigue, and hormonal imbalance, it is not serious unless it becomes chronic. Don’t worry unnecessarily if sleep eludes you for a while. You can try these simple suggestions to help you sleep:

  • Prioritize sleep by planning and following a routine
  • Indulge in some light exercise unless cautioned against it medically
  • Drink up during the day and limit after 6 in the evening
  • Nap during the day to cope with less sleep at night
  • Try relaxation techniques like breathing exercises, yoga, and warm baths

Quick Recap of Common Doubts

After understanding the potential effects that the way you sleep has on your pregnancy you probably have certain questions and doubts relating to it. Most people ask if sleeping on the right side will also end up hurting the baby. Or if sleeping on the left side is imperative? The fact is that you do not have to necessarily sleep on the left side. Sleeping on the side is good enough be it right or left. They both will not harm your baby. The only thing is with the right side sleeping you will be putting pressure on your intestine and liver. The next popular query is about the gender of the baby. A lot of mothers also raise the query on which sleep position during pregnancy results in a baby boy or girl? Though the internet is rampant with such information there is no medical theory to support that any external factor or environment can have any effect on the baby’s gender. Gender is purely biological and has nothing to do with which side you decide to sleep on.

Finishing Touch

Sleeping during pregnancy can be very challenging by itself. It ends up becoming a daunting task when you are told to follow certain ways of sleeping as well. But the fact is that your body tells you what is most comfortable for it. Side sleeping has been encouraged primarily for its medical benefits, but most women find that it is also the most comfortable especially in the last leg of pregnancy. Remember that there can be a hundred studies that talk about sleep situations during pregnancy, but every pregnancy is different, and each body is unique. What works for many may not necessarily work for you. So just sit back, relax, and let your body responsibly lead the way into slumber.

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