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Sleep during pregnancy can be elusive, and it may seem sometimes that you are going crazy. The lack of sleep mixes with the added hormones and all the extra energy your body is using to create new life, and suddenly you aren’t just tired, you’re to-the-bone, completely, absolutely, without-a-doubt EXAUSTED. There may be tears, gnashing of teeth, desperation to just get one more good night’s sleep before the baby gets here and steals sleep from you forever.

Calm down.

It’s ok. It can be done. You can sleep. Today we’re talking about sleep aids during pregnancy. There are a lot of them, some chemical, some natural, some physical, and we’re going to break each one down and see what products are out there to help a new mom in her quest for sleep. Which ones work? Which are safe? Which are not safe? How well do they work? Those are the questions we’ll be answering today.

The Products

Pharmaceuticals

In case you don’t know, pharmaceuticals is a very big word that simply means medicine. Usually made in laboratory and dispensed by a druggist or pharmacist, these are things your health care provider may recommend or prescribe you to help you sleep.

Typically, your health care provider is not going to prescribe you a prescription-strength sleep aid unless there is an underlying problem or condition that warrants it. Prescriptions like Trazodone may be given if the mother is withdrawing from alcoholism or if she has a history of insomnia that threatens her health, but this is rare, as most prescription-strength sleep aids are not compatible with pregnancy. There are four types that exist.

Category B is typically regarded as safe, but usually only animal studies exist. Benadryl, Ambien, and Unisom are a few, and are generally thought of as safe. Unisom in particular can be purchased at any drugstore, usually without a prescription, same with Benadryl. Ambien requires a prescription, but is usually considered safe for pregnancy.

Category C shows that there may be risk to the baby, but sometimes these will still be prescribed if the mother going without sleep would be more harmful than any side effects of the medication. Lunesta is an example of this.

Category D has definite risk to the baby, but may be used as a last resort

Category X is contraindicated, or not allowed for pregnant women.

The short answer is that, yes, there are some chemical sleep aids you can use during pregnancy, but only after discussing it with your doctor and weighing the potential risks with the benefits. There are many other things you can try before resorting to medicine for your sleep needs, even if you are sure that you will never sleep again.

Remember, if you are sure there is a real problem, or if your lack of sleep is starting to become dangerous or affect your health, talk to your health care provider. They are there to help you.

Lifestyle Changes

Before putting anything into your body, take a look at what your body is doing, and what you are doing with it. A few minor changes in routine can mean the difference between a good night’s sleep and a bad one. Routine is a powerful thing, and a few changes to yours may help.

Exercising a few hours before bedtime can ensure that you are tired enough for bed. Yoga is a great exercise for pregnancy, and Shiva Rea’s Prenatal Yoga DVD can keep you on the right track. Make sure that you drink plenty of water while you exercise, and that you excesses a few hours before bed, not right before. Getting your heart rate up is beneficial, but we don’t want to have it up too close to bedtime.

Get outside for at least twenty minutes every day to soak in some sunshine. Sunshine helps your body regulate the production of melatonin, which helps you sleep. Getting enough sunshine during the day can help ensure a good night’s sleep. Also, outside activities tend to be ones that expend energy. Go to the zoo, the park, the beach. Go swimming or take a short, easy hike at a local natural park. Find a local farmers market or explore your town’s historic district. Stay active and stay outdoors, but don’t forget the sunscreen and the water! Your skin is delicate during pregnancy and you are more prone to dehydration.

Establish a good routine at night. If you are usually a night owl, try to move your bedtime to before 11 PM, moving your lay-down time forward by 15 minutes until you are able to lay down prior to 11. Create a nightly routine for yourself, perhaps with a warm bath, a cup of warm milk or non-caffeinated tea to help you relax and slow down. Remember that it takes two weeks to form a habit, so don’t give up if you don’t sleep better right away or even if your sleep gets worse at first. The body takes its cues from associations that it forms, and it takes time to form those associations. As you begin doing to same thing each night before bedtime, your body will begin to use those things as a signal that it is time to sleep, and you will find it easier to snooze.

Don’t stew if you wake up in the night. Lying in bed and trying to fall back asleep will only make you more frustrated. Instead, get up, read a book, journal, walk, or do some other quiet activity (not TV) until you feel very tired, then lay back down. This helps give your brain an outlet for its burst of energy before realizing that it still needs sleep and should shut back down for the evening.

Natural Remedies

If you still need a little assistance getting yourself off to dreamland, there are some natural remedies that may give you the extra nudge you need to get a good night’s sleep. Keep in mind that “natural” does not always mean” ok for pregnancy”. Check with your health care provider before putting anything new, even if it’s natural, into your body.

Herbal Tea is generally considered safe during pregnancy, especially calming blends like Lemon Balm, Chamomile, or Catnip. Avoid green teas, because they contain caffeine and can also hinder folic acid consumption, which is vital for baby’s brain growth. Also be careful with chamomile. While it is gentle, drinking large amounts can be problematic for a person with a history of hay fever. They help to relax your system so that you can drift off peacefully, and both are considered safe during pregnancy. These can be added into your night-time routine just before bedtime, so not only will they assist your body from the inside, but your body will begin to associate their smell and taste with sleep, making it even easier to drift off.

L-Theanine can be helpful. It is an amino acid that assist with stress relief and circulation, both crucial to the pregnant woman. L-Theanine is present in Green tea, but should be consumed as a capsule, as, like we discussed above, green tea is not recommended for pregnant women to drink. L-Theanine can assist not just with sleep, but with the evil that is Restless Leg Syndrome. RLS is annoying and can make it almost impossible to sleep because of the itchy, crawly feeling in your legs that compels you to move them. L-Theanine can help his by increasing circulation and calming the nerves in your legs.

Essential Oils are another helpful tool. They work with your body’s natural chemistry to help you fall asleep quickly and stay asleep longer. Good oils for relaxation include Lavender, Vetiver, Roman Chamomile, and Sandalwood. These can be rubbed on the feet to achieve maximum absorption by the body, or a few drops can be placed on the pillow and inhaled throughout the night to ensure good sleep. Another idea is to purchase an oil diffuser so that the essential oil is dispersed into the air as you sleep. Essential oils don’t always work the same way for each person, so it is a good idea to have a few on hand to try. You don’t need much. A drop or two is usually sufficient, especially during pregnancy when your sense of smell is so sensitive.

The Pregnancy Pillow

Comfort is a huge part of being able to sleep well. If you are not comfortable, you will not be able to fall asleep, no matter how many of these techniques you use. Find yourself a good quality pregnancy pillow and use it only for sleep. IF your body associates the feel of this particular pillow with sleep, especially in conjunction with other parts of a sleep routine, it will become key in helping you fall asleep quickly. Each night, sprinkle a drop or two of your favourite relaxation oil on it, and soon, it will absorb the smell permanently and you will have created the most comfortable, effective sleeping pill ever.

Pregnancy is too precious a time to waste it being exhausted all the time. A few changes in your lifestyle and behaviour can give you amazing results as you try to keep up with the sleep your body needs. Go get yourself some herbal tea, some essential oils, and, of course, that wonderful, amazing pregnancy pillow to help you drift off to dreamland.