Sweet Dreams: get comfy for a good night's sleep, by Kirsty Gallacher

It's been some time since I last blogged, with various things taking up my time.  One of these has been further training in the teaching of Yoga Nidra with the Satyananda Centre.  It's a fantastic technique for long and deep relaxation, and I truly hope you're all feeling the benefits as I've been putting the training into practice, especially those of you suffering from lack of sleep.  This is often an issue during pregnancy, as well as after your baby is born, and it's a topic which has come up a number of times recently.  So, it seems just the right time to dedicate a blog to the subject of sleep.  Well actually, a series of blogs as once you begin to delve into this, there's a lot to consider.  


One of the reason's it's so hard to get a good night's sleep is getting comfortable, or rather difficulty in doing so!  There's also the worry about what's the right way to lie.  Then as your baby grows and the bump gets bigger, what starts as comfortable doesn't stay comfortable for long!  So then comes the challenge of changing position.  Add into that a number of trips to the loo.  Then there's the mind... ah yes, all those thoughts, a huge hotch-potch of concerns and anxieties, big and small, lists of things to do, buy, organise, work worries, trying to get organised for your maternity leave, what's the best buggy or nappy system.....the list goes on.  So in this first sleep blog we're going to look at the basics first, that is position and getting comfortable.


The Best Position

Left vs Right

The big question is what side should you lie on?  You'll no doubt have heard that lying on your left is best.  Well, that could be true for many women and there are a number of reasons why this is so.  However, let's just state up front that it's NOT bad to sleep on your right and it won't harm either you or your baby.


Reasons why lying on the left may be best are:  

1.  blood flow through the vena cava (lies to the right of the spine and returns blood from lower body to heart) is improved, so you get the best blood flow to heart, kidneys, uterus and your growing baby;  

2.  digestion is also improved because of the position of the stomach, and it may help with heartburn;  

3.  it takes pressure off the bladder (on your right side) so may help to at least reduce the number of loo trips;

4.  it may even encourage baby into the optimal position for birth (I say may because as far as I know there's no real scientific research or proof that it's the case).


All of the above are good reasons to lie on your left if you find it comfortable.  There's lots of anecdotal stuff out there from women who can't sleep on their left, for whatever reason, and finding another position may be the only way to get a good night's sleep.  


Belly and Back

Neither lying on your belly or your back are recommended.  The belly for obvious reasons and the back because the weight of the uterus may compress the vena cava and impede blood flow to all those areas mentioned above.  What happens if the vena cava is compressed?  It could make you feel dizzy, faint, breathless, nauseous, cause your heart to pound.  On hearing this many pregnant women get anxious about rolling onto their back in the middle of the night without knowing, and worry that it will cause harm.  First of all, remember that moving in your sleep is natural, it happens without your control, and most importantly, there's no need to worry about it.  If you roll over, and if the vena cava gets compressed, midwives have assured me that the discomfort will wake you up and you can then simply change position.  Secondly, compression of the vena cava is only likely from around 26 weeks (give or take a couple of weeks either side as every pregnancy is different), also it's reckoned that you'd have to lie completely flat to cause this compression so it can be avoided by using support (see below).



Sleep On Sides - it's fair to say this is good advice and avoid belly and back if possible.  If it works for you, sleep on the left and enjoy the benefits BUT if it isn't for you, get comfortable on your right side, and if you do roll onto your back?  Well, don't lose sleep over it : )



Getting Comfortable

Use all the props and support you need:  pillows, cushions, blankets, bolsters or rolled up blankets, memory foam mattress topper, dream genie pillow.  Whatever works for you. If you get a lot of hip pain from lying on one side, try having support down the length of your spine so you can roll back slightly and shift the weight off your hip and onto your buttock.  Or adopt a supported recovery position - place support for your top leg in front of you so you can drape the leg over the support and move the weight forward (if you liked sleeping on your belly before pregnancy this can be a good option as it's about as close as you can get to it once your bump starts to grow).  Or do both of these, support behind and in front, and shift the weight around as you need.  Also try support under your bump, between the legs, and try between the length of the lower legs, rather than just between the knees if you get pelvic girdle pain.


If you're not so far along and really like sleeping on your back or find side sleeping too uncomfortable, avoid lying flat on the back, and this applies even for a short relaxation.  Use something like a yoga bolster or rolled up blanket under the backs of your knees, and add a little support under your right side, at the back waist.  Try a cushion or thin folded blanket and it should be placed with one corner going towards the spine but not as far as to go under it, just enough to lift your right side up slightly and tilt you a little to the left.


Watch this space for the next instalment and how yoga breathing & relaxation techniques can help you get a better night’s sleep.  In the meantime, hope to see you on the mat very soon.


Namaste, and be well.