Trying to catch some quality zzzs can be a challenge all on its own, but toss pregnancy into the mix, and it’s a whole new ballgame.
Between tossing and turning to find that perfect sleeping position with your ever-growing belly, and constantly waking to run to the loo or rub painful cramps out of your leg, we don’t blame you one bit for trying to track down a sleep aid to get better sleep. After all, in less than nine months, you’ll have a sweet tiny bundle to tend to — so you should probably rest up while you can!
We know, easier said than done, right? Not to worry, though, as there are a number of things that may help improve the quality of your slumber, like melatonin. But don’t run to your local drug store just yet — read on to discover everything you need to know about the safety of supplemental melatonin during pregnancy.
But First, Why Is Sleep So Important During Pregnancy, Anyway?
With hormones running amok, a tiny developing baby to nourish, and a heavier load to carry around, having trouble sleeping when you’re expecting is no rare event. Growing a human is no easy feat, and exhaustion is your body’s way of telling you it needs a little R&R.
That said, due to a multitude of factors, insomnia and pregnancy tend to go hand-in-hand. Beginning in the first trimester, fluctuating hormones cause generalized discomfort and other issues that can make it difficult to get to sleep and stay asleep.
These may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Breast tenderness
- Higher body temperature
- Leg cramps
- Increased heart rate
- Frequent urge to pee
- Back pain
While it’s quite common for pregnant women to experience at least a few of the symptoms listed above, sometimes it’s a sleep disorder behind the symptoms versus pregnancy alone. With that in mind, if you’re encountering persistent sleep problems, be sure to let your health care provider know about the symptoms you’re experiencing, as there could be an underlying issue disrupting your sleep.
Rest is imperative for everyone, but this is especially true for pregnant women. In fact, new research suggests that women who don’t get enough shut-eye during pregnancy may have a higher risk of developing complications, such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia.
Knowing this, it makes perfect sense why so many expectant mothers feel compelled to reach for something that might help them to sleep better, like a melatonin supplement.
So, What Exactly Is Melatonin?
Simply put, melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone produced by the pineal gland within your brain.
Also known as the “sleep hormone,” the role of melatonin is to help regulate your circadian rhythm (aka, your internal clock) and keep your sleep-wake cycles on track. Your levels of melatonin normally rise after dark, peak in the middle of the night, and dip down as your cortisol levels rise and eventually wake you up.
Melatonin signals the body that it’s time to sleep, helping you relax, wind down, and transition to slumber.
You can find melatonin as an over-the-counter supplement. In fact, millions of people all over the nation take melatonin to help drift off at night — it’s especially popular to combat jet lag.
But whether these popular supplements are actually the best choice for pregnant moms is still up for debate.
Is Melatonin Safe To Use During Pregnancy?
The short answer: nobody really knows — there simply isn’t enough evidence to prove that taking melatonin doesn’t affect pregnancy outcomes.
Like lots of things that you’ve likely never thought twice about consuming before (think ibuprofen, sushi, and that third cup of java), the advice is generally not to take melatonin when there’s a bun in the oven.
While there’s virtually no evidence that connects melatonin to birth complications or a reduced quality of life for the developing fetus, there’s also no evidence to prove that it’s completely safe to take during pregnancy.
You see, there’s no standard dose of melatonin and no standard strength across the available brands. Why? Because in the United States, melatonin is considered a dietary supplement. This means that it’s regulated less strictly by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) than a prescription or OTC drug would be.
Due to the lack of regulation, it’s very difficult for researchers and doctors to predict the effects of melatonin — this is why the proverbial jury is out on whether or not taking melatonin supplements is without a doubt safe during pregnancy; there are just too many unknowns when it comes to possible side effects on fetal development.
That said, if you’re wanting to give melatonin a try because your sleep problems are getting worse, we suggest talking to your care provider about your sleep struggles before purchasing any OTC supplement, melatonin or otherwise. Your doctor knows your health best, and they will be equipped with the context of your medical history to help investigate why you aren’t sleeping as well as you could be .
Alternatives to Melatonin: Tips To Consider
Before you reach for any kind of supplement or medication to send you to Dreamland, there are a number of non-pharmaceutical things you can do to support better sleep. Here are a few tips!
Tip #1: Get Comfy-Cozy
Invest in a pregnancy pillow if you haven’t already — you don’t have to wait until the third trimester to get support for your baby bump! If a pregnancy pillow isn’t available, have your S.O. gather cushions from around the house until there are enough to form a U around your body, basically supporting you from all sides (which is exactly what a pregnancy pillow does!).
Pregnancy pillows help to support your belly, pelvis, backside, neck, and any other part of your body that needs a little extra support to help align your spine and give your body the ability to actually relax and decompress.
We also suggest keeping your sleeping space at a cool 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit to help give you the best chance of a good night’s rest — it’s the scientifically backed temperature proven to give you the best sleep!
Tip #2: Start a Snoozy Bedtime Routine
Just as babies benefit from a solid bedtime routine once they’re born, a bedtime routine can pave your way to a more peaceful snooze. In fact, experts say a good routine is essential for both kiddos and adults alike to get a good night’s sleep.
A bedtime routine doesn’t have to be anything extravagant — it can be as simple as washing your face, brushing your teeth, and hitting the hay at the same time each night. Of course, you can add more elements to suit your preference; just remember, consistency is key!
Here are some snoozy activities that you may want to include in your routine:
- Take a warm, calming bath with an organic bath bomb
- Listen to relaxing music
- Spend a few minutes journaling
- Meditate (which is one of the best tools to support women’s mental health during and after pregnancy)
Before hopping into bed, we recommend spritzing your pillow with our 8 Sheep Organics’ “Unwind” Pillow Mist, too — this dreamy formula is infused with organic bergamot, lavender, chamomile, and vanilla essential oils to help calm an over-active mind and ease feelings of tension in your body. What’s not to love?
Tip #3: Avoid Blue Light
Believe it or not, watching TV right before bed can cause problems when it comes to getting a solid night’s rest. The blue light from the screen is notoriously known to disrupt the body’s natural sleep cycle. But it’s not just your television screen that can throw a wrench in your sleep quality — smartphones, tablets, computers, and laptops emit blue light, too.
Because of this, experts suggest turning off all digital devices (yes, this includes your phone) about 30 minutes to an hour before it’s time to sleep.
A Final Word
So, is melatonin safe during pregnancy?
In short, no one seems to know for sure, but because of that, it’s not recommended, especially since melatonin should be used short-term anyway, not weeks or months on end.
Melatonin is considered a dietary supplement, meaning it’s not regulated by the FDA like a prescription or OTC drug would be. So, as a result, predicting its effects can be tricky.
That said, if you’re interested in giving melatonin a try because your sleep troubles are getting worse, we highly recommend talking to your primary care provider or OB/GYN — they can help rule out that you don’t actually have a sleep disorder, as well as helping you find a longer-term solution specific to what you’re experiencing.
Not being able to sleep while pregnant isn’t fun by any means, but the good news is that there are many tried-and-tested strategies you can try that won’t jeopardize the health of your little one.
So take a deep breath — you’re doing great!