Like many other pregnant women, Heather Sale had an unrelenting craving. But she wasn’t dreaming about anchovy pizza — not always, at least. More than anything, she longed for a good night’s sleep. “I’m a sleep lover,” says Sale, an actress living in New York City. “When I was pregnant, I was obsessed about it.”

For both new moms and moms-to-be, sleep can be a precious commodity, says Harvey Karp, MD, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of California School of Medicine and author of the “Happiest Baby on the Block” book series. “We all know the price we pay if we don’t get a good sleep,” he says. “It affects us physically and emotionally. It’s even more important for pregnant women.”

A severe lack of sleep can be a real problem during pregnancy. Here are some of the risks:

Preemie babies. A Greek study of more than a thousand soon-to-be moms found that women who got five hours of sleep or less in the later stages of pregnancy were about 70 percent more likely than other women to have a preterm delivery. Too little shuteye might explain why preterm births are unusually common among female medical residents, some of the most bleary-eyed people around, as reported in an article published in Sleep Medicine Reviews.

More C-sections. Just one extra hour of sleep can make a huge difference. A study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that women who got fewer than six hours of sleep each night during the last month of pregnancy were about three times more likely to have Cesarian births than women who got seven or more hours each night. 

Longer, harder labor. Another study found that sleep-deprived women are more likely to suffer through longer, more painful labor, presumably because they don’t have their usual strength and endurance.

In the big picture, proper sleep can be as important as good nutrition, exercise and the other staples of a healthy pregnancy, says Jill Powell, MD, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. “Pregnancy puts considerable strain on the heart and lungs,” she says. “You need a chance to get some rest. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, your body can’t recuperate.”

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Not getting enough slumber can also undermine a future mom’s mood. It’s not exactly a news flash that a sleep shortage can make a pregnant woman just plain miserable. “You’re cranky and irritable when you don’t get enough sleep,” says Jodi Mindell, PhD, a professor of psychology at Saint Joseph’s University and author of several books on sleep.“It’s hard to control your emotions, to keep yourself from bursting into tears or yelling at people. People call it pregnancy brain, but it could be a lack of sleep.”

Sale says her restless nights definitely made it hard to think straight. “I was so exhausted that it really affected my state of mind,” she says. “I had some ‘poor me’ moments. But then the baby would give me a good kick, and I’d get excited all over again.”

Get serious about sleep

The bottom line: Sleep while the getting's good. (Catching enough zzz's will only be harder once the baby is born.) "Women who are carrying their second or third baby know how important sleep is,” says Powell. “But a lot of first-time moms stay up too late trying to get the nursery ready. You have to sleep when you can.”

Karp, Mindell and Powell have these sleep tips for pregnant women.

Catch some cat-naps. Even if you don’t have time for a full nap, Powell says, simply lying down in the middle of the day can relieve swelling in feet and your give your body a much-needed break.

Create a soothing bedtime routine. “An hour before bed, turn off the TV or computer, drink a little herbal tea, or have a warm shower,” Karp says. Your may want to stretch your legs a little to help avoid leg cramps. All of the standard sleep tips apply to you: Keep the bedroom cool, dark and quiet, avoid caffeine in the evening, and don’t watch TV, check your cell phone or working on your laptop in bed. You may also want to stash some dry crackers near the bed to stave off nausea.

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Drink (water!) in the morning and afternoon. Changing hormones and the increased pressure on your bladder means you'll be peeing more than usual, which can interfere with your nighttime slumber. You’ll avoid a lot of late-night runs to the bathroom if you drink less in the evening.

Sleep on your left side. That will encourage circulation and the flow of blood and nutrients to your baby. Tuck some pillows between your knees, behind your back and under your tummy to help take the pressure off your lower back.

Know the signs of sleep apnea. This condition could harm the baby, so if you’re pregnant and start snoring loudly or gasping for breath at night, talk to your health care provider. A doctor might recommend a CPAP mask to ensure you get enough air during the night.

Don’t overeat right before bed. That’s a recipe for heartburn, a particular problem during pregnancy.

Related: 7 Foods You Shouldn’t Eat While Pregnant and 6 You Should

Talk to your doctor about over-the-counter remedies. Medications such as Prevacid or Pepcid can safely bring relief from heartburn. Powell often recommends Unisom (doxylamine) to her pregnant clients. Not only does it promote sleep, it’s also handy for easing the nausea that comes with morning sickness.

Relax with some music or white noise before bedtime. Many soon-to-be mothers are so worried, excited or both that they spent hours staring at the ceiling when they needed to be sleeping. “You can go to bed, but you can’t turn off your mind,” Karp says. In these cases, he recommends a white noise CD. “Those low, rumbly sounds can help turn off the voice in your head,” he says. Meditation might also help. Simply knowing that anxiety and doubt are normal parts of pregnancy, he says, can be comforting, too.

Sleep may not always come easy, but it’s worth the effort. After all, when you’re pregnant, you’re not just doing it for yourself. You’re sleeping for two.

Chris Woolston, M.S. is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in science, health and travel. A reformed biologist, Woolston says, he studied algae and nitrogen dynamics in Antarctic lakes before the Science Writing Program propelled him out of the lab. He is a contributing editor at, a former staff writer for Time Inc.’s Hippocrates magazine, and co-author of Generation Extra Large (Perseus). He lives in Billings, Mt., with his wife – novelist Blythe Woolston – and their two children.