Several sleep disorders can be caused or made worse by pregnancy. Some disorders, such as sleep apnea, may also be associated with complications during pregnancy such as gestational hypertension, preeclampsia, or low birth weight. Women with sleep apnea may also experience more daytime sleepiness compared to women who do not have sleep apnea during pregnancy. If you are pregnant and feel you may suffer from sleep apnea, it is very important that you talk to your doctor.
Here are the common sleep problems and their symptoms that may occur during pregnancy:
- Sleep apnea – Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which a person quits breathing in his or her sleep repeatedly. Sleep apnea is often described as heavy snoring followed by long, quiet pauses with no breathing, and then an abrupt arousal with gasping and/or choking sounds during sleep. Excessive daytime sleepiness is a result of sleep apnea. If you are experiencing snoring and sleepiness, you should talk with your physician and ask about having your blood pressure and urine protein checked, especially if you have swollen ankles or headaches.
- Restless legs syndrome (RLS) - Symptoms of RLS include unpleasant feelings in the legs, sometimes described as creepy, tingly or achy. These feelings are worse at night or in the hours before bed and they are temporarily relieved by movement or stretching. Most often patients with RLS also have nocturnal myoclonus, which is a sleep disorder where patients kick, jerk, or move their legs and/or arms all through the night. Ask about your iron and folate levels at your next doctor’s appointment if you have symptoms of RLS or myoclonus.
- Insomnia – Symptoms of insomnia include difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early or feeling unrefreshed. Insomnia related to stress or anxiety about labor, delivery and/or balancing work and motherhood may result in significant sleep loss. The discomforts of pregnancy such as nausea, back pain and fetal movements may also disturb sleep.
- Nocturnal gastroesophageal reflux (nighttime GERD) – GERD, also known as heartburn, is considered a normal part of pregnancy. However, nighttime symptoms of GERD can damage the esophagus and disrupt sleep during pregnancy. If you are experiencing GERD, you should sleep with your upper body at an incline or elevated by at least 30 degrees and/or sleep on your left side. Try to avoid eating at least within 4 hours of your sleep time.
For more information about sleep disorders, please visit our website at www.methodisthealth.org/sleep or contact us at 901.683.0044, option #3.
Kristi Lester is the Manager of the Methodist Healthcare Sleep Disorders Center. All opinions expressed here are those of their authors and not of their employer. Information provided here is for medical education only. It is not intended as and does not substitute for medical advice. Please call the Sleep Disorders Center for more information at 901.683.0044.