As part of our campaign to help mamas struggling with pregnancy insomnia, we’ve teamed up with sleep expert Sammy Margo to answer all your sleep-related questions. Author of The Good Sleep Guide, Sammy is a sleep expert and qualified chartered physiotherapist with a Master’s in Physiotherapy from University College and The Middlesex Hospital.
We sat down with Sammy to get her insight on the biggest problems pregnant women face when trying to get to sleep and what her top tips are for easing symptoms of pregnancy insomnia.
What’s your background?
I trained as a chartered physiotherapist and I developed an interest in sleep because I had been treating patients for many, many years and I realised that sleep was such a critical part of their getting better – ranging from the elderly to kids to during pregnancy.
So I became interested in the physical science of sleep, and now I spend my life talking to people about sleep and how to sleep better. Not a lot of people realise that we spend a third of our lives asleep, and two thirds of us are struggling to get a good night’s sleep so it’s a real challenge.
What’s the worst bad sleep habit you’ve seen?
I think in our modern times we’re leading increasingly sedentary lifestyles, and I think what we don’t recognise is that we are more like dimmer switches than on-off switches. We actually need time to relax and unwind before we go to sleep, whilst many of us think that we can just go, go, go and then stop, and we should be able to sleep instantly. I think that’s why so many people are struggling to get a good night’s sleep.
We’re not setting time aside for bedtime routines, we’re not setting a technology cut-off period, we’re not understanding that sleep is a critical part of our day and that we need to dedicate specific time to this routine just like you would work or exercise.
Is technology causing problems with sleep?
More recently people have blended the issues of technology. What we do know is that blue light exposure has an impact on the release of your sleeping hormone melatonin; it suppresses the release of melatonin. We’re really concerned about the kids of the future because they’ve been exposed to such continuous levels of it non-stop throughout the day and playing games right into the late hours.
As well as this, we’re leading underactive lifestyles but we’ve got very overactive minds, so people are struggling to switch off. With blue light exposure as well as the over activity, it’s a recipe for disaster!
What would you say is your #1 tip for a good night’s sleep?
One of the most important things is a bedtime routine – setting aside somewhere in the region of forty to sixty minutes before bedtime to actually unwind. Maybe have a warm bath, eat a sleepy snack, listen to some relaxing music, light a lavender-scented calendar… Really create a bedtime ritual so that you take the time to unwind before going to sleep.
What’s the biggest issue for pregnant women when trying to get to sleep?
Having been pregnant myself, I know there’s a whole bunch of stuff that causes issues. I think the biggest concern really is getting into a comfortable position at night. It’s really important to understand what position you’re comfortable in and learning what works for you, even if you need to move around throughout the night or purchasing a body pillow.
I think looking at what you can do to help is really important as there’s so much you can’t do in pregnancy. And it’s all about balance, making sure you’re thinking about your day overall: getting a good amount of daylight exposure, eating well, making sure you’re eating snacks that are relevant to sleep and also making sure you’re moving little and often throughout the day. And setting aside time for bedtime routine!
With pregnancy it’s really important to manage expectations and recognise the limitations and understanding the process. Pregnancy is a time when your sleep will be disrupted without shadow of a doubt. You’re told to prepare for the baby disrupting your sleep –it’s a bit like the dirty hair analogy, if you don’t wash your hair, it gets used to it… if you don’t sleep you’ll get used to it! It’s worth remembering it’s a temporary phase and just part of life, you’ll get your sleep eventually. And it’s worth it for a baby!
Have you got any natural insomnia remedies that you’d recommend?
For sleeplessness and insomnia there’s a whole bunch of natural stuff you can look at. Research has shown that lavender is a great aid for restful sleep so that’s commonly used. Things like progressive muscle relaxation can really help; a fantastic technique invented by Jacobson in the 1920s to help you go to sleep.
There’s also loads of foods that can act as stimulants to increase the amount of your sleepy hormone melatonin. Turkey is a very famous source of tryptophan which is why you feel so sluggish after Christmas dinner! Snacks like almonds, honey, walnuts and especially bananas are great. A banana is practically a sleeping pill in a peel! Not only do they have magnesium, potassium and serotonin, they can also really help with night-time cramps in your third trimester.
Is there anything you’d say that can help with anxiety during pregnancy?
As we’ve mentioned earlier, setting aside time for a bedtime routine or a warm bath or listening to an audio book can all really help manage anxiety. There’s so many apps nowadays that use relaxing soundtracks music with different frequencies to really help ease your mind. For example, it’s very common for people to wake in the night – and they worry about it, but I have to tell people that it’s okay and lots of other people do too.
I think the most important thing is to remember and understand that this is part of life and it’s normal to have a bit of disruption.
Is it bad to go to sleep with the TV on?
Many people do this – you’ve got such a busy mind that it’s a displacement therapy to get out of your own head. I would say it’s better to listen rather than watch, as the blue light affects your quality of sleep. My recommendation would be to switch to audio – if you’re watching on an iPad, just flip it over and listen, or try an audiobook.
What you don’t realise is it’s all about the deep restorative quality of sleep that gives you all of the growth hormones you need. Every hour you go to bed before 12 is worth 2 is an old wives tale about getting to bed earlier. People don’t think about quality of sleep and sleep cycles. Every sleep cycle lasts 90 minutes and what we’re looking for is a really good quality sleep. You might be in bed for 8 hours but not get quality sleep. And that’s really where the research is going to find out more about this area and learn the best ways to improve sleep quality.
Read more at The Good Sleep Expert.
For the perfect bedtime routine, shop our Sleep Easy Kit!
Find out more about our collaboration with Sammy Margo here.