Are you waking up exhausted and under the cranky glare of your partner? If so, and there’s no easy way to say this, you are probably snoring.
Don’t worry. Snoring during pregnancy is hardly uncommon. Everything about your body is changing, including how you breathe at night.
Snoring can be a simple annoyance deal with until your baby arrives, or it can be a warning sign of severe pregnancy complications. Let’s talk about why you started snoring and how to spot the difference between regular snoring and serious complications so that you can keep yourself and your baby in excellent health.
Is Snoring in Pregnancy Common?
If you feel like you’re not meeting pregnancy-glow expectations with your newfound snoring habit, don’t worry. Up to 45% of pregnant women snore during an otherwise normal pregnancy, and a majority of women start snoring in their second and third trimesters. 1Saaresranta, T., Anttalainen, U., & Polo, O. (2015). Sleep disordered breathing: is it different for females?.
You may have a higher chance of snoring in pregnancy if you are:
- Older age
- Preeclamptic (up to 75%)
- A back sleeper
- Experiencing allergies
- Suffering from sleep apnea
Why Do Women Start Snoring During Pregnancy?
Pregnancy changes your body in many ways. Often, those changes are beautiful, while some lead to… noisier side effects, such as that not-so-lovely snoring samba rattling from your nose.
Blood volume and Excess Fluid
The increased levels of blood swirling around your veins coupled with water retention and swelling around the neck and within the nasal passages leads to snoring. Lying down can further aggravate this process, as this position may cause fluid to migrate upwards towards your respiratory tract.2Balserak, B. I. (2015). Sleep disordered breathing in pregnancy. Breathe, 11(4), 268-277.
Your rapidly fluctuating pregnancy hormones do not lend themselves to a good night’s sleep. These changes cause the nasal passages of pregnant women to swell, leading to snoring issues that range from mild to severe. In extreme cases, it can even contribute to sleep apnea,3Get a Good Night’s Sleep During Pregnancy
hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/staying-healthy-during-pregnancy/get-a-good-nights-sleep-during-pregnancy a severe condition where airflow during sleep is obstructed so breathing temporarily stops.
A woman who has a healthy BMI can expect to gain up to 35 lbs throughout her pregnancy journey. This number goes up or down, depending on an individual’s BMI, but even an obese woman can expect to gain at least 11 lbs.4Pregnancy weight gain: What’s healthy?
While a normal part of pregnancy, this weight gain can cause you to snore due to excess pressure resting against the airway and diaphragm. With that constriction, a snoring symphony is born.
Allergies and Sickness
Getting sick or suffering through allergies can also lead to snoring (even if you’re not pregnant!). When suffering from an illness or irritant, the blood vessels in your nasal passages begin to swell. This, of course, occludes the airway, which means it’s likely you will spend your nights snoring instead of getting proper sleep.
The Risks of Snoring During Pregnancy
Snoring is often just ‘one of those things’ that you and your partner laugh (or grimace) about over breakfast. However, that doesn’t mean you should ignore it completely. When women snore during pregnancy, it can be indicative of a severe medical condition.
Preeclampsia is characterized by high blood pressure that can range from mild to severe. Unfortunately, those who have serious consequences can experience organ damage or even fetal death. It poses a health risk to both expecting mothers and their babies.
When women snore during their pregnancy, especially when they had no previous snoring history, they are considered at higher risk for developing this ailment or other blood pressure disorders.5O’Brien, L. M., Bullough, A. S., Owusu, J. T., Tremblay, K. A., Brincat, C. A., Chames, M. C., … & Chervin, R. D. (2012). Pregnancy-onset habitual snoring, gestational hypertension, and preeclampsia: prospective cohort study. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology, 207(6), 487-e1. With that said, the mere presence of snoring in pregnancy doesn’t mean you are suffering from this serious ailment. A pregnant woman also needs to be at least 20 weeks along in her pregnancy, have high blood pressure, and present with at least one of the following:
- Pulmonary edema
- Protein in the urine
- Vision problems
- Migraine-like headaches
- Impaired kidney function
- Impaired liver function
- Low platelet count6Preeclampsia
Unfortunately, the only definitive cure for preeclampsia is through delivering your baby. When possible, your doctor or midwife may recommend inducing labor early for both your safety and the safety of your child. If your baby is not developed enough to survive outside the womb, there are medications available that can help lower high blood pressure, and your OB/GYN might recommend dietary changes or bed rest.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
The most common type of sleep apnea is Obstructive Sleep Apnea, a condition where the throat muscles periodically relax to the point that your airway is blocked, and you stop breathing for short periods while sleeping. Many women realize they have to be screened for this disease after their partner has repeatedly shaken them awake due to loud snoring. You should also contact your doctor if you experience
- Severe fatigue during the day that hinders your ability to function
- A gasping for air or a choking sensation upon awakening from sleep
- Loud snoring multiple times a week 7Strollo Jr, P. J., & Rogers, R. M. (1996). Obstructive sleep apnea. New England Journal of Medicine, 334(2), 99-104.
As with many sleep disorders, a high BMI is a considerable risk factor, so be sure to talk to your OB/GYN about healthy weight management.
In an interview with news station KTVB7, Dr. Jeffrey Lin noted that obstructive sleep apnea elevates the risk of preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, preterm labor, and increases the odds of requiring a C-section. Dr. Lin advises women experiencing sleep apnea symptoms to undergo a sleep study. He notes that with modern technology, “most patients can have their sleep studies done in the comforts of their own home,” so there’s no need to worry about a complicated procedure in a strange place.
Early Onset Snoring
For most women, snoring does not become a huge issue until they are in their second or third trimester. However, for almost 8% of women, they begin to snore earlier in their pregnancy.8Sarberg, M., Svanborg, E., Wiréhn, A. B., & Josefsson, A. (2014). Snoring during pregnancy and its relation to sleepiness and pregnancy outcome-a prospective study. BMC pregnancy and childbirth, 14(1), 15. This is often associated with a higher BMI, which can predispose a pregnant woman to future pregnancy complications. However, the good news is that snoring is not related to weight gain in pregnancy. If you begin to snore during your first trimester, you should talk to your doctor about your risk factors.
Safe Ways to Stop Snoring
If you are among the many pregnant women who snore but are otherwise healthy, you’re probably desperate for a good trip to dreamland right about now. When you’re a snoring, pregnant woman, sleep doesn’t exactly feel restful, so try these tips.
- Sleep on your left side: this position allows for improved circulation throughout your body and keeps some weight off of your diaphragm, which will hopefully lead to less snoring in pregnancy.
- Sleep with your head elevated: by keeping your head up, you are protecting your airway.
- Saline drops: if nasal congestion is the cause of your snoring, then a little saline spritz up your nostrils can help break up impacted mucus.
- Nasal strips: a go-to for anyone who wants to stop snoring, these little strips are applied to the outside of your nose and gently widen your nasal passages, so air can better make its way around those swollen blood vessels.
- Humidifier: adding a little moisture to the air can calm irritation caused by inhaling dry air, and your snoring may settle right down.
- Stay hydrated: proper hydration can thin mucus and curb your appetite.
- Avoid dairy: that wonderful grilled cheese sandwich could be causing extra mucus formation, something dairy products are notorious for producing.
- Pregnancy pillows: these handy products can do wonders at evenly distributing your body weight and keeping you in a comfortable position throughout the night.
- Eat fruit: pregnant women should always focus on healthy foods, but certain fruits, such as pineapple, bananas, and oranges, can increase natural melatonin production.
Sleeping Solutions for Your Partner
Between pregnancy and dealing with the sawmill that has set up shop in your nose, you undoubtedly have a lot on your plate. Still, it’s always a kindness to remember that your snoring may be disrupting your partner’s sleep as well as your own. I have a few simple suggestions to help them sleep better.
Earplugs: just make sure to pick a product designed for sleeping, as these will be the most comfortable to wear while blocking out snoring sounds.
White noise machine: snoring and white noise frequencies tend to blend together, so the actual sound of snoring may become less intrusive.
Sleeping in another room: I know this might not seem like the best option. But suppose you just cannot stop snoring and your partner begins to suffer from constant fatigue during the day. In that case, it might become necessary to sleep separately for at least part of the pregnancy, or, in severe cases, until your baby is born.
Frequently asked questions
Can I prevent pregnancy-snoring?
Because many causes are directly related to your pregnancy (e.g. hormones and weight gain), preventing those unpleasant snoring noises is largely impossible. What you can do is remember to keep your weight gain within healthy parameters and, if you do start snoring, employ the above tactics for yourself and your partner.
Will my pregnancy snoring ever go away?
Rest assured that the majority of women who began snoring during their pregnancy find their sleeping pattern does return to normal shortly after giving birth. Once pregnancy hormones disappear and you shed your baby weight (providing you return to a healthy BMI), you should find the only noise waking you and your partner up is that of a hungry baby.
Can I take melatonin supplements to help me sleep better?
While it may be tempting to add a melatonin supplement to your vitamin regime, most experts would advise caution. While there have been promising studies regarding melatonin as a treatment in severe preeclampsia, not much is known about its long-term effects on the development of a baby.9Dou, Y., Lin, B., Cheng, H., Wang, C., Zhao, M., Zhang, J., & Wu, J. (2019). The reduction of melatonin levels is associated with the development of preeclampsia: a meta-analysis. Hypertension in pregnancy, 38(2), 65-72.
During a 2013 study, doctors regularly gave pregnant rats melatonin. The result was a higher mortality rate and a slower growth rate for the resulting pups. In short, just because melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone doesn’t mean you should begin taking it daily in pill form without speaking with your doctor.10Singh, H. J., Saleh, H. I., Gupalo, S., & Omar, E. (2013). Effect of melatonin supplementation on pregnancy outcome in Wistar-Kyoto and Sprague-Dawley rats. Sheng Li Xue Bao, 65(2), 149-157.
Are there safe sleep medications I can take to keep myself asleep during pregnancy?
While some medications are not considered harmful to take while pregnant, even natural remedies can prove harmful for your baby during your pregnancy. Diphenhydramine and doxylamine are typically safe during pregnancy. Before starting any herbal or over the counter medication, give your OB/GYN a call, and discuss the benefits and risks.
Am I eligible for a CPAP machine if my snoring is annoying but otherwise harmless?
A Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) Machine may be used for those diagnosed with sleep apnea. If you are snoring when pregnant but otherwise healthy, your doctor will likely guide you towards a simpler, less expensive treatment.
Problems with snoring, pregnancy-related or not, can feel embarrassing for women. However, it’s a perfectly normal issue. You should consult your doctor if you exhibit any of the concerning symptoms we talked about above. Even if your snoring is perfectly normal, your OB provider can work with you to achieve a better night’s rest.
And pregnancy eventually runs its course, and with it goes the extra estrogen, increased blood volume, baby weight, and all the other fun stuff that led to you snoring in pregnancy in the first place.