Poor Sleep during Pregnancy Could Mean Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea and other sleeping problems are often experienced by pregnant women. Because a large percentage of pregnant women experience sleep problems, many women, as well as their physicians, believe that problems in sleep are normal among pregnant women. It may be true that changes in the body of pregnant women, as well as the excitement and anxiety brought by pregnancy, can cause sleeping problems however; such sleeping problems can be treated and corrected easily.

Most women experience poor sleeping habits in their first trimester. They feel extreme fatigue and sleepiness throughout the day because of the rising progesterone level. Progesterone has a hypnotic effect. Progesterone continues to increase in the second trimester, but it now has a different effect on pregnant women. Pregnant women become more alert during the day during their second trimester as compared to their first.

The third trimester is perhaps the most difficult for pregnant women. During this stage, their sleep is most disrupted. Pregnant women in this stage experience shortness of breath which affects their breathing patterns while at sleep. Also, during the last few months of pregnancy, women need to urinate frequently at night, thus disrupting their sleep.

The sleeping problems mentioned previously are common, normal problems almost every pregnant woman experiences. However, there are sleep problems that develop and worsen during the duration of pregnancy. For example, studies show that around 10 to 20% of pregnant women develop obstructive sleep apnea. The risk for obstructive sleep apnea increases as pregnancy progresses. Often the symptoms of sleep apnea among pregnant women are overlooked because the majority of pregnant women experience normal sleeping problems. The only symptom that can perhaps tell if the pregnant woman has obstructive sleep apnea is when she snores; excessive sleepiness and fatigue during the day is normal among pregnant women.

There are many reasons why pregnant women are at risk of having obstructive sleep apnea. One factor that can cause OSA among pregnant women is weight gain; as weight increases, airways become obstructed with extra fats and tissues. Another factor that increases the risk of sleep apnea for pregnant women is their hormones. Their bodies produce different kinds of hormones, such as relaxin, estrogen, and progesterone that can disrupt normal sleeping during the night. Relaxin causes the muscles to relax, in preparation for child birth; however, this hormone also relaxes the muscles on the throat, blocking air especially during sleep. High levels of estrogen also relax blood vessels, which causes swelling too. Lastly, progesterone causes the throat to swell which decreases the diameter of air passages.

It is important for obstructive sleep apnea to be treated among pregnant women. Untreated sleep apnea can cause serious problems on both the mother and the developing child. When left untreated, sleep apnea increases the risk of the mother to high blood pressure, and pre-eclampsia. Children born to mothers with sleep apnea have low birth weights and low APGAR scores. Moreover, studies show that there is more development and fetal movement when the mother is under REM sleep.

One of the most effective ways of treating sleep apnea among pregnant women is through the use of CPAP. CPAP is safe and helps pregnant women breath normally during sleep.