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The Health Benefits of Napping During Pregnancy

Did you know that daily naps are a great way to cope with pregnancy fatigue? So, go ahead. You have our permission if you need it. Nap away. Snooze. Catch some zzz. It’s time for a siesta, a catnap, a little shuteye. Pregnancy changes just about everything in your body, so it makes sense that the amount and pattern of your sleep will also change. Sleep is restorative – both for your body and your mind. Keep reading to learn more about the health benefits of napping during your pregnancy.

What Are Some of the Health Benefits of Naps?

In non-pregnant adults, napping:

  • Increases relaxation
  • Reduces fatigue
  • Increases alertness
  • Improves mood
  • Boosts performance, including quicker reaction time and better memory

Some of these benefits may occur because napping increases the time spent in slow-wave and rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep – periods of the sleep cycle thought to play essential roles in restoring the body and brain. We also know that people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease.

For pregnant women, research shows that napping more frequently helps your baby grow to a healthier size and weight. Women who nap more during pregnancy are less likely to have a low birth weight baby. Pregnant women also report that a quick nap can sometimes help with frequent pregnancy headaches. Other pregnant women complain of brain fog, forgetfulness, or trouble concentrating – a quick cat nap helps some people focus and feel sharper. Napping reduces stress levels and improves mood, something many pregnant women welcome. Pregnancy is hard enough – why make it any harder by resisting the urge to nap?

Why Do People Feel So Tired During Pregnancy?

Pregnant people should get 8-10 hours of sleep each night (compared to the 7.5 to 8 recommended for non-pregnant folks). Fatigue can be one of the first signs that you are pregnant and, for some, can last for the next nine months. There are several different reasons why people feel tired during pregnancy, such as:

  • The discomforts of pregnancy prevent a full night’s sleep (heartburn, joint pain, having to go to the bathroom, sciatica)
  • Pregnancy hormones (progesterone in the first trimester)
  • Dehydration (not drinking enough water)
  • The extra effort and work to carry around your growing baby in the third trimester can be exhausting
  • Hypothyroidism (low thyroid levels)
  • Morning sickness
  • Insomnia
  • Anemia (low iron)
  • Depression or Anxiety

The last five causes of pregnancy fatigue listed above are medical conditions that can risk your and your baby’s health. Talk with your health care provider if you feel that your pregnancy fatigue is getting in the way of your job, regular routine, or one of several new symptoms you’re experiencing. While napping can help you feel better in the short term, seeking evaluation for more significant mental health concerns, nutritional problems, or hormonal changes will impact your long-term health and well-being.

Secrets of a Restorative Pregnancy Nap

  1. Try frequently changing your sleep posture. Shift from sleeping on your front or back to your left side, especially as your pregnancy progresses. You’ll feel more comfortable and take pressure off the blood vessels that nourish your baby. Tuck a pillow between your legs (when side-sleeping) or underneath your calves (when back sleeping) to support your sore back.
  2. Keep it short. Short naps generally don’t affect nighttime sleep quality for most people. The ideal nap length is only 20 minutes long.
  3. Create the right environment to nap. Darken your room, wear a sleep mask, silence electronics, and turn on a fan or air conditioning to keep you cool.
  4. Go to the bathroom before lying down.
  5. Try using an essential oil diffuser to scent your napping room with relaxing scents such as lavender or orange.
  6. Use deep breathing or listen to a sleep meditation app to help relax your busy brain before your nap.
  7. Give yourself 5-10 minutes to wake up before returning to your busy day. Some people like gentle yoga stretches to help them wake up.

How to Keep Your Naps From Disrupting Your Body’s Natural Sleep Cycle

Keeping a regular sleep schedule by going to sleep and waking up within an hour of the same time, seven days a week, helps your body regulate sleep. If you sleep for too long during the day or take too many naps, you might notice that you want to stay up later. Try to avoid the temptation just to get a few more things done. Instead, stick to your regular bedtime.

Continuing with some exercise, especially outside in daylight, can help give your body the message when it is time to be awake and when it is time to sleep. Even though it might be hard to motivate, exercising can actually help beat fatigue. Fitting in a daily walk or swim will also help you sleep more soundly at night, even if you still take a nap.

Sleep experts say that for the usual person, the ideal time to take your siesta will be around 1-3 PM. This is because taking a nap in the middle of the day can increase serotonin levels (feel-good brain chemicals) and re-stabilize homeostasis (functioning) in the body. As you wake up from your nap in a good mood, you are more likely to be motivated to socialize, be friendly, and feel a greater sense of peace and contentment. This nap schedule might not work for everyone, especially if mid-afternoon falls right in the middle of your work day. You can play with taking naps at different times to figure out the best time and place to take your cat nap without disrupting your sleep cycle.

Finally, sticking to a quick power nap of 20 minutes may help you avoid disrupting your sleep cycle. A short 20-minute nap allows your mind and body to rest without entering the deeper stages of sleep.

The Key to A Healthier Pregnancy Might Be More Naps

Napping during pregnancy can help relieve pregnancy fatigue. Listen if your body and brain are telling you it is time to catch some zzz. A quick 20-minute cat nap will help to lower stress levels associated in pregnancy with preterm labor and low birth weight babies, blood pressure problems, and challenges with stabilizing blood sugars if you have gestational diabetes. Napping can also improve your mental concentration, relieve pregnancy headaches, and improve your mood. So, following these tips for a restorative pregnancy nap, why not add a regular nap to your daily schedule?

Amy Harris
Amy Harris is a certified nurse-midwife with a Master's Degree in Maternal and Child Health from Harvard Chan School of Public Health. Her passions are health literacy and women's reproductive health. A recent two-year sabbatical with her family in Spain was the impetus for becoming a freelance women's health writer. An exercise nut, she is happiest outdoors and on adventures abroad.

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