Sleeping and Pregnancy – The Importance
Sleep (1) is one of the most important cycles of life that goes on in our system, no matter the state we are in.
It is so important that sleep specialists recommend seven-nine hours of sleep per night (2). On average, an adult woman sleeps eight hours and 27 minutes, and approximately 11 minutes more than men (3).
While sleeping is this vital, some people use a sleeping aid to help sleep. When pregnant, sleeping aids are unsafe, like Sleepytime tea which contains ‘chamomile.’ While generally, some other teas can cause miscarriage when pregnant.
This article focuses on sleeping positions when pregnant and whether it is safe to sleep propped up while pregnant. It educates you on sleep and its importance when pregnant.
Circadian Rhythm and Effect on Pregnancy
Sleeping during pregnancy is as essential as any other time in a woman’s life, as the health of her baby and hers depend on the quality of sleep she can get.
The circadian rhythm is our internal body clock that matches the regular 24-hour clock (though longer). It controls our essential functions and physical processes, including our sleep-wake cycle – sleeping at night and waking in the morning (4).
Circadian rhythms are also crucial during pregnancy and to your baby’s circadian system (5,6). When it comes to pregnancy, this internal clock can be affected.
How you sleep and your position can affect your sleep quality and could tamper with your sleep cycle.
A disturbance to your baby’s circadian system can expose them to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, and other health risks (5).
As such, taking a ‘safe position’ while pregnant and having quality sleep is very important.
What Goes on When We Sleep? – Stages of Sleep
While this is secondary to the topic, it is interesting to understand the primary process, yet a somewhat complex one, that goes on when we sleep.
- non-REM stage 1
- non-REM stage 2
- non-REM stage 3
- REM stage
- non-REM stage 1 is the first sleep stage that begins less than 10 minutes into sleep. It is considered a light sleep. At this stage, your breathing and heartbeat reduce while your muscles relax, taking you to the next stage of non-REM.
- non-REM stage 2 – at this second stage of sleep, your body temperature lowers, and brain waves become slower. This is still a light sleep.
- non-REM stage 3 – as you enter this third stage, known as deep sleep, your body begins repairing your bones and muscles, increasing the blood supply to your muscles, strengthening your immune system, releasing hormones, and restoring your energy. The stage of sleep lasts the longest and reduces as the night goes on.
- REM stage – you enter this stage of sleep at about 90 minutes into your sleep. This stage of sleep becomes longer as the night goes on. At this stage, your brain and body become energized; your breathing becomes fast and irregular. Your brain becomes active, and you start dreaming. Your brain now immobilizes (“paralysis”) your arms and legs to prevent you from acting your dreams.
On completion of the four stages, the cycle restarts and continues in successive cycles until you wake.
The Benefit of Sleeping
The benefits of sleep for a pregnant woman cannot be overemphasized.
The expectations and demands of motherhood come from the preparedness that begins when pregnant.
Sleep has its way of preparing an expectant mother for the rigors of motherhood.
- Build memory (memory reconsolidation) (8),
- Process emotions,
- Improves learning,
- Increases appetite,
- Repair body muscles,
- Boost your immune system,
- Boost your mood,
- Helps in decision-making.
It can be said that sleep (REM) is “like a form of overnight therapy” – Matthew Walker, Professor of neuroscience and psychology, University of California.
As such, quality sleep from an excellent sleeping position when pregnant is essential.
Common Sleeping Positions When Pregnant
We are getting to the meat of the bone.
Sleeping positions (9) when pregnant is synonymous with the stage or trimester you are in your pregnancy.
This is because the size of the belly varies with the stage. Just as you would be afraid to go to the beach when pregnant because of ocean waves, which has to do with the size of your belly, so it is with sleeping position.
Common and healthy sleeping positions when pregnant include:
- on your side
- on your stomach
- on your back (propped up / sitting up)
However, not all these positions are suitable at different stages of pregnancy.
Recommended positions at each stage include:
First trimester –
- On your side (any side)
- On your back (stop from 16 weeks)
- On your stomach (only early into pregnancy – less than 12 to 16 weeks)
Second trimester –
- On your side (left side)
Third trimester –
- On your side (left side)
What is Safe and Unsafe? – Facts From Reality
While we are concerned about safe sleeping positions, particularly on sleeping propped up, is there really an unsafe position?
Before getting pregnant, there are positions you must have adapted to when sleeping from childhood and grown into it.
According to experts, different sleeping positions have their effects and benefits on our body, but none has really been tagged as ‘unsafe’ when we sleep; instead, some positions are considered healthier than others.
The same goes for sleeping when pregnant. No sleeping position is really unsafe when pregnant, depending on the stage of the pregnancy and the time spent sleeping on a position.
Only what is fact is that sleeping positions create either an inconvenience for you or worry that a position may hurt your baby.
Now, we will focus on if you can sleep propped up pregnant.
Is it Safe to Sleep Propped up While Pregnant?
Sleeping propped up while pregnant is highly unrecommended. This is because as your baby grows, pressure can be exerted on your heart, making it difficult for blood to flow easily throughout your body, unlike the
On the other hand, a study (10) was conducted to evaluate specific sleeping positions (sleeping propped up / supine position) in pregnant women (at late pregnancy) and the probable outcome of a delivery and how it may affect the baby.
It was postulated that a supine position (lying on the back / propped up) might play a role in stillbirth.
It was observed from the study that a majority of pregnant women spend some time (approx. 26.5% of the sleeping time) sleeping on their backs.
The study aims to discourage women from sleeping propped up while pregnant.
This further emphasizes that sleeping propped up during pregnancy is practically unsafe.
The difference between supine and propped-up positions is the presence of pillows on the back that help in an upright position. Otherwise, there is still pressure on your back as though you are lying flat, as in supine.
Best Sleeping Position When Pregnant – Left-Side
If sleeping propped up while pregnant is considered unsafe, which sleeping position is best?
As mentioned earlier, the left-side sleeping position is the best.
While you may be used to sleeping in other positions, maybe on your back or stomach, you can start practicing sleeping on your side early into your pregnancy.
Left Side Sleeping Position
Sleeping on the side (on your left side)
Sleeping on the side with your knees bent remains the best. This position relieves the pressure of your growing belly, allowing your heart to pump blood and flow easily throughout your body.
Sleeping on your left side is highly recommended since your liver is located on your upper right-hand side. Sleeping on the left prevents your growing belly from exerting pressure on your liver and enhances blood flow to your growing baby, womb, kidneys, and heart.
However, you may experience some discomfort sleeping on your left side. You can alternate between your right and left, which also helps relieve pressure on your left hip.
An enhanced way to sleep on your side and still relieve some tension is to place pillows under your belly, between your legs, and at the small of your back (the part of your back where your spine curves in at the level of your waist).
Here are the best air mattresses for pregnancy that takes off this inconvenience of setting pillows here and there.
What Sleeping Positions Should be Avoided During Pregnancy?
The following sleeping positions should be avoided during pregnancy
- Supine position / on your back (from 16 weeks)
- Sleeping on your stomach (from 12 – 16 weeks)
It would be best to stop sleeping on your stomach when your growing belly starts becoming uncomfortable, usually from 12 – 16 weeks.
It would be best if you stopped sleeping on your back from 16 weeks.
Can you Sleep on your back with a Wedged Pillow While Pregnant?
You can sleep on your back with a wedged pillow while pregnant, but you should stop sleeping on your back all the same from 16 weeks. You should start training your body to adapt to side sleeping from as early as when you take in.
A wedged pillow helps you adapt to a new and more comfortable position.
Final Thoughts – Sleeping Propped Up While Pregnant
While this article focused on answering the question, “is it safe to sleep propped up while pregnant?” it also dealt in-depth on the best sleeping position and the importance of sleep during pregnancy.
Nonetheless, the food for thought here is to start learning to adjust your sleeping position to your left side, preferably early into your pregnancy. And if you are late in your pregnancy, you should stop sleeping on your back.
Using pillows under your belly, between your legs, and at the small of your back (the part of your back where your spine curves in at the level of your waist) can help you adapt to sleeping on your side with time.
The emphasis, in the end, is that sleeping propped up is unsafe and may lead to pregnancy complications like stillbirth.
(3) Average sleep hours: Gender and time for sleep among U.S adults
(4) Circadian rhythm: Circadian rhythms and circadian clock
(5,6) Circadian rhythm and pregnancy: (5) Maternal-Fetal Circadian Communication During Pregnancy, (6) Pregnancy shifts the daily schedule forward
(8) Memory, emotions, and REM Sleep: The interaction of REM fragmentation and night-time arousal modulates sleep-dependent emotional memory consolidation
(9) Sleeping positions: Best Sleeping Positions
(10) A study: Typical sleep positions in pregnant women