How to Sleep Better When You're Pregnant
PHOTO: Sleeping Better When Pregnant

You know that a sleepless night can leave you sluggish and grouchy the next day. But if you're expecting, missing out on a good night's rest isn't just bad for your mood—it can also affect your baby.

Pregnant women who have trouble sleeping are more likely to experience complications during birth, according a new study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

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Researchers had already collected information on the sleep patterns of 168 pregnant women for a previous study about the effects of antidepressants on pregnancy outcomes. So for this study, researchers took the same data and looked at which women gave birth prematurely or delivered underweight infants. Interestingly, when women suffered from sleep problems frequently during their first trimester, they were more likely to experience issues during delivery.

So what does sleep have to do with it? Missing out on shuteye increases levels of cytokine, a protein essential for healthy immune system. And too much cytokine causes your immune system to attack healthy muscles and tissues, which can lead to birth complications, says study author Michele Okun, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Missing out on sleep every now and then won't throw off your cytokine levels for your entire pregnancy. However, if you catch yourself constantly having issues sleeping—especially during your first trimester—try these expert tips to send you off to dreamland fast.

If You Can't Get Comfortable

Your growing belly makes certain positions uncomfortable to sleep in, while others can hurt the baby. The result: lots of tossing and turning, but not much in the way of Zzzzs. Enter the pregnancy pillow, which solves the problem by wrapping around your body to give your back and baby belly extra support, says Okun.

If Something Else Is Behind Your Sleepless Nights

By the end of the study, 42 percent of women reported having insomnia. A number of factors can be to blame, including stress, discomfort, or even all those bathroom trips you have to take while pregnant, says Okun.

If you've been lying in bed awake for more than 20 minutes, do something boring like reading a book or newspaper that you don't find particularly scintillating. Just make sure to do it in another room so you don't start to associate your bed with activities other than sleeping, which can exacerbate the problem, says Okun.

One extra tip: Keep the lights low during your boring activity; bright lights can keep you up even later.

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If You Still Aren't Getting Enough Sleep

Experts recommend between seven to nine hours of sleep per night so that your body has enough time to mentally and physically repair itself.

When you can't drift off in the p.m., naps can help you regain lost sleep, says Okun. Try to sleep for an hour and a half so that you complete a full REM cycle—and snooze before 4 p.m. whenever possible (anything later than that will make it harder to fall asleep at night).

Work during the day? Weekend naps work, too, says Okun.

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