Sleep Disorders in Pregnancy and
the Postpartum Period
Pregnancy is associated with a host of physical and emotional changes.
Physical changes include morning sickness, body aches including
back pain, heartburn and of course foetal movement. Emotional changes
include a huge range including anxiety, fear and depression. Emotions
can swing wildly. According to a National Sleep Foundation poll
as well as other research, 78% of women experience more disruption
of sleep than they normally experience. These changes vary with
the stage of pregnancy:
In the first trimester there are high levels of progesterone. This
may be associated with increased sleepiness. Some of the physical
changes may also disrupt night time sleep, leading to further increases
in daytime sleepiness.
The second trimester usually has less severe disruption of sleep
than earlier or later stages, but still not normal quality sleep.
The third trimester is associated with the most significant changes
in sleep. The physical changes of pregnancy are their greatest and
include general discomfort, increased nocturnal urination, heartburn,
back pain and nasal congestion. Studies have suggested that virtually
all women have some disruption of their sleep in the third trimester.
In addition to the disruption of sleep that is a consequence of
the physical and hormonal changes, certain specific sleep problems
may also occur in pregnancy.
Because of the increased weight and the swelling of tissues that
occurs in pregnancy, many women have the onset of snoring for the
first time in pregnancy. If the airway obstruction is significant
enough and in particular if there is a predisposition due to genetic
factors, obstructive sleep apnoea may also occur. This condition
is not only characterized by loud snoring but by obstruction of
airflow which in turn leads to significant interruptions of sleep
and drops in oxygen level. The interrupted sleep can lead to marked
daytime sleepiness. If daytime sleepiness does occur and is more
severe than might be reasonably expected from hormonal changes alone,
the diagnosis of sleep apnoea should be considered.
In the third trimester as many as 15% of woman may also experience
a sensation of discomfort, often described as a "creepy crawly"
sensation in the legs which leads to a need to move, kick or even
get out of bed and walk. This condition also occurs commonly in
non-pregnant men and women but there seems to be an increase due
to pregnancy. The consequence can range from being slightly annoying
to severely disruptive of sleep.