How I beat insomnia during pregnancy

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I feel a moral obligation to write this post. Because insomnia is the WORST. And ultimately, I was able to beat it because of the advice of my friend Ruth. Now I need to pay it forward and give my own advice to any of you pregnant ladies who, like I was, are going CRAZY with the need to sleep–but the complete inability to do so. There’s hope!

If you haven’t experienced insomnia and (like the non-pregnant version of me) are like, um, what’s the big deal? You, like, put your head on the pillow and just, like, go to sleep, like. Well, let me tell you.

Insomnia = hell on earth

Uh . . .

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Wasn’t me.

Yes, my little bean. You may be very cute and jiggly. But it was you.

The skinny: during the third trimester of my pregnancy with Isaac, I had severe insomnia for ten days. Read: having to get up and pee every two seconds, the dreaded restless leg syndrome, feeling too hot, too cold, twitchy, uncomfortable–yeah. For hour after hour after hour.

The worst night of that stretch, I was awake literally all night. As in, dawn broke and I had yet to fall asleep.

One night of no sleep = I can do it.

Two nights = I really can do it.

Three nights = holding it together.

Four nights = cue the tears. Like at the dry cleaners, where I handed the nice lady my credit card.

“Cash,” she said.

What? I hadn’t realized there was a minimum for credit cards! I immediately burst into tears. “I didn’t know,” I blubbered tragically. “I have no cash! I didn’t know!”

Then I went to the grocery store. I was looking for 8-gallon size trash bags. I looked and looked. There were 13 gallon bags. 30 gallon bags. 4 gallon bags. Not an 8-gallon in sight. I burst into tears.

Five nights = I’m living inside a nightmare and might actually be going insane.

The entire time, I was doing all the common-sense things that I thought should work: going to bed at the same time every night. Reading before bed. No screen time. Limiting liquids after 7pm so I didn’t have to pee every five minutes. Eating a minuscule dinner so my weird pregnancy digestion didn’t keep me up.  I took melatonin. Unisom (the one safe nighttime sleep pill my midwives said was safe during pregnancy). WHY WASN’T IT WORKING?

I don’t know. But I will tell you what did eventually work. And it’s a big long list.

Feel free to try some, or all, and know that I wish you the best in your journey to sleeping again.

Because soon, the little person will be waking you up for different reasons.

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Gotta eat.

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Can’t survive on fists alone.

I know, son. I know.

Okay.

I’m dividing my list into habits and products.

HABITS

-Only one cup of coffee first thing in the morning. After that, no caffeine.

-No alcohol. May seem like a no-brainer, especially for pregnant women, but might as well put it out there.

-Limited-to-no sugar, especially after lunch.

-Very minimal dinner–literally just a snack, at an early time (for me, 5 or 5:30pm). If I ate too much or too late, because of the whole “there’s another human in my belly” thing, the baby and the food would battle all night long for space. Result: misery.

This was a hard one at first because, let’s be honest, I love treats. After the kids are in bed, my mind starts to think, what kind of delicious treat can I indulge in? Strawberries with Cool Whip? Popcorn? Doritos? A glass of wine? A gallon of spicy queso?

I love treats.

But once I crossed the threshold into sleepless insanity, it was not hard at all to give up. For sleep, anything.

-No screen time after the kids went to bed (7pm). Not even to check the weather app on my phone. Nada, amigos. Also seemed hard at first–after all, what about watching fun shows with my husband? But once the insanity hit, it wasn’t hard. At all. Sayonara and good riddance Anthony Bourdain, and I’ll see you on the other side of giving birth.

-Exercise regularly, and do it early (for me, not past 4pm). Too close to bedtime and it just revved me up. On a sidenote, I loved this particular pregnancy workout.

Erin is super personable, and the workout helped me with my (also pregnancy-related) back pain.

-Go to bed at the same time every night. This wasn’t a habit adjustment on my part–more like a long-standing habit because I LOVE sleeping.

-Relax and read in bed for half an hour to an hour leading up to your ideal sleep time. And read something relaxing–nothing that will piss you off or get your heart thumping  either. For me, that meant nothing related to news or politics. Maybe it’s time to resurrect your old Anne of Green Gables volumes.

-Cool air. Crank up that air conditioning, get a fan blowing on you–I’ve read that keeping it somewhere in the upper 60s is ideal. Unfortunately, our AC can never seem to get it below 72, but make it as cool as you can. A fan can also give some nice white noise if you’re one to get distracted or startled by odd or random sounds sounds in the house or on the street.

PRODUCTS

-Body pillow. I didn’t get this to help with insomnia, but it’s helped me with sleep all throughout the big-belly stage, so worth mentioning. I drape a leg over it and almost feel like I’m lying on my stomach (which has always been my preferred method of falling asleep).

-Compression socks. I bought these Futuro brand firm compression socks at Walgreens. They were way expensive (I paid $20 per sock. Um. And that was the on-sale price). But I was half insane from lack of sleep and couldn’t have cared less if they cost two dollars or two hundred. I was willing to do anything. I wore them for 5-6 hours a day after hearing they helped prevent restless leg syndrome.

I also find it hilarious that, if the product is defective, you’re supposed to wash them and return them for a refund.

What will Futuro do with the freshly-washed, defective product?

That is unclear.

Thankfully they work great.

And they’re cheaper on Amazon! By a lot. Here’s a link if you’re interested.

-Iron supplement. I’d just been told I had low iron, and that can contribute to sleeplessness. I took one tablet first thing in the morning.

-Magnesium supplement. This is also supposed to help with restless legs. I started taking 500 mg about half an hour before going to sleep. Handy that this helps counteract the potentially constipatory effects of iron.

-Relaxing tea such as Yogi’s Stress Relief tea. I’d drink tea around 7, right before I tried to cut off (most) liquids.

-Coconut water. It has potassium and magnesium in it, both of which are supposed to help relax muscles (another aide for those who suffer from restless legs). Also, something about the electrolytes? I don’t know, I’m no doctor. But I used coconut water to swallow my magnesium supplement before bed. I drank this kind:

-15-minute bath half an hour before bedtime, using Village Naturals Therapy Mineral Bath Soak Aches & Pains Relief. Oh man, this product smells so good.

If you like Vick’s Vapor Rub or Noxzema face wash, you’re going to SWOON at this stuff. Menthol and eucalyptus, baby. So relaxing. Pretty sure there’s also magnesium in this formula. I’m detecting a theme of magnesium here.

When I ran out, I switched to plain old Epsom Salts and they worked just fine and dandy.

-Lavender essential oil rubbed on the soles of my feet right before slipping under the covers. On my wrists too, sometimes. Mmmm.

-A bar of Dove soap in bed with me next to my legs/feet. Okay, this one sounds crazy. But Ruth knew ladies who swore by it, so I hauled my butt to Walgreens and bought one. And that was my first night of awesome sleep. Maybe it’s placebo. But placebo schmacebo–if thinking it works makes it work, hallelujah. And you wake up with your feet smelling pretty good. Admittedly it seemed quite strange to have a naked bar of soap kicking around under the covers, but after the initial minute of weirdness I started liking it. A lot. And then I was asleep.

In short: of all these things, the bath before bed and the magnesium was what helped the most. I eventually stopped using the leg compression socks, did drink the occasional glass of wine, and did have some screen time before bed–but the couple times I tried skipping the bath, it didn’t go so well. So–BATHE, my friends. Bathe and sleep. And let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear!




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