The third trimester of pregnancy brings a host of sleep-related changes as the weight gain and pressure of the growing foetus start to have a direct impact on muscles, joints, and blood flow.
If you can’t sleep and you’re pregnant in your third trimester, keep reading for advice on how to improve your sleep quality. We’ll take a closer look at the factors that influence third trimester sleep, including conditions like sleep apnoea and restless legs syndrome, and discuss the best third trimester pregnancy sleeping positions.
How Does Sleep Change in the Third Trimester?
For most women, the third trimester is the most difficult1, bringing back pain, heartburn, and sleep apnoea, among other things. Not only is it more difficult to get quality sleep2, but you’ll also experience daytime fatigue as a result of your changing body.
Back Pain and General Discomfort
It’s estimated that 2 in 3 women3 suffer from lower back pain and sore muscles during pregnancy, which in turn causes sleep disturbances. Women with higher levels of depression or anxiety4 typically describe their back pain as more severe.
Depression, Anxiety, and Insomnia
Insomnia strikes an estimated 3 in 4 women5 during late pregnancy. Principal drivers of insomnia in pregnant6 women include anxiety, depression7, disturbed dreams8, night-time awakening, foetal kicking and other movements9, and pain and discomfort10 from the baby bump. Frequent bathroom breaks due to overactive kidneys and the weight of the uterus against the bladder can also disrupt sleep11.
Snoring and Sleep Apnoea
A significant number of women develop snoring and sleep apnoea during pregnancy. Although often benign, this may also be a warning sign of a more severe condition. Research shows that snoring is correlated with high blood pressure12 and preeclampsia13, while sleep apnoea may increase the risk of maternal morbidity14. Sleep apnoea also appears to be correlated with gestational diabetes15.
Leg Cramps and Restless Legs Syndrome
Research shows that as many as 1 in 3 women16 have restless legs syndrome in the third trimester, characterized by uncomfortable sensations that provoke an irresistible urge to move the legs. Restless legs syndrome appears more when the body is at rest and can make it virtually impossible to get to sleep. The third trimester also brings night-time leg cramps17 for many women.
As the digestive system slows down in late pregnancy, many mothers-to-be develop heartburn. This uncomfortable condition involves acid rising back up through the oesophagus, causing a burning sensation in the chest.