Why do I feel so tired during my pregnancy?

Your body goes through many changes during pregnancy, but one of the major ones to keep an eye on is your sleep schedule. Your sleeping pattern may become disrupted or changed during pregnancy and that’s perfectly normal.

As a result of this, you may experience more feelings of fatigue than usual, and it may feel like you’re often very tired. The first and last trimester are known for being times of feeling quite tired – creating a human is hard work! Lots of your energy is going to supplying your baby with all that they need to grow. Give yourself the time and space in your day to rest and make sure to accept help if you need it – no one is superhuman and we all need help at times, especially during pregnancy.

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A study by Lee, Zaffke, and McEnany in 2000 found that sleep pattern disruption can occur as early as 11-12 weeks in pregnancy and that the forms of sleep disruption varied. Some women reported increased sleep time, more awakenings, and less deep sleep. A 2010 study by Chang also reported increased sleep time and daytime sleepiness during the first trimester, whereas the third trimester brought a decrease in sleep time

Other symptoms included ‘worsening of snoring, nocturnal apnoea, excessive daytime sleepiness, worsening restless leg syndrome, shortened sleep duration, and ongoing poor overall sleep quality’. And what was interesting was that most of these symptoms were linked to weight gain during pregnancy. Weight gain during this time is perfectly normal, but there are things you can do to minimise it to help your sleep pattern.  

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Da Costa’s 2010 study of 245 pregnant women examined the effects of their sleep problems on their physical and emotional quality of life. It was found that lack of sleep was associated with emotional distress, anxiety and depression.

Physical activity and mindful yoga were two practices that were assessed to see if they had any affect on pregnant women’s sleeping quantity and quality. Women at twenty weeks more participated in the study and results showed that neither sleep quality nor sleep duration was majorly improved with increased physical activity. However, when women were given a 7-week mindful yoga training course to follow, women in their third trimester reported no great improvement, but women in their second trimester reported decreased nighttime awakenings and better sleep efficiency from pre- to post-intervention.

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Other reasons you may be tired are:

Experiencing hormonal changes – your body is producing increased amounts of progesterone which can make you sleepy

Experiencing emotional changes – while pregnancy is a very exciting time, it can also be a source of anxiety and worry for mothers. Your emotions can affect your physical state too, and constant worrying can wear you out. Seek help and talk to someone if these feelings become overwhelming.

Lack of good quality sleep - pregnancy dreams, pressure on your bladder, uncomfortable positions – these are all problems that can disrupt sleep during pregnancy. It is perfectly normal to be waking in the night to use the bathroom and to experience intense dreams surrounding your pregnancy.

Woman in Gray Tank Top While Sitting on Bed

Discomfort – The HSE recommend sleeping on your side during pregnancy: ‘Sleeping on your side is often more comfortable than sleeping on your back - especially after about 16 weeks. Sleep on whichever side feels most comfortable. Keep your knees and your legs bent and try placing a pillow between your legs. You can also put a pillow under your abdomen to support your bump. Sleeping on your side helps keep your baby safe. Research has shown that sleeping on your side, especially in the third trimester (weeks 27 to 40), helps to prevent stillbirth. Don’t worry if you wake up on your back. But it's important to fall asleep on your side.’

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Extra weight – gaining weight during pregnancy is perfectly normal, although it can make you feel more tired. Eating healthily may help your energy levels and some gentle, pregnancy recommended exercises can help also. Usually the second trimester is when your energy will return again, but until then, you should try to look after yourself and rest when there is an opportunity to do so.

Low iron – If you feel your level of tiredness is not normal, you should consult your GP or midwife – you may be suffering from low iron levels. Don’t take iron supplements unless you GP specifically recommends it.

(‘Sleep and Pregnancy: Understanding the Importance’ by Marci L. Zsamboky, (MSN PMHCNS-BC CNE Assistant Professor in the School of Nursing at Tennessee State University) International Journal of Childbirth Education.)