One of the biggest challenges as a midwife is having to tell/convince/explain that a woman isn't in active labor, but is in early or even pre-labor. It can be discouraging when a mom looks at you with imploring eyes... I just know she wants me to tell her she's almost done when, in fact, she has barely begun.
First time moms are especially vulnerable to the over-exhaustion of early labor rumblings because they are so darned excited to actually be in labor finally. I do understand! But, that adrenalin rush is best saved for later in the labor when wave after wave of contractions wash over the woman and her baby - sometimes with barely a moment to breathe.
Second-time and subsequent moms almost always get the Rest-When-You-Can mission because they know what work is to come. Besides, tending to a newborn plus other children means just that much less sleep in the future. Gotta grab it where you can!
Ways that I encourage women to let go and rest include taking a warm bath, sipping a glass of wine or beer, taking 25 mg Benadryl (NOT all combined!), making love, cuddling with her lover, finding a comfortable position with a dozen pillows if necessary, listening to music to signal relaxation, and visualization during the dream state.
When resting, contractions sometimes feel like they are jumping up on your back instead of sneaking up slowly. I encourage women to visualize themselves with open arms while they sleep and allow the contraction to envelop them warmly and slowly, but to let them stay as asleep as possible even through the surge. I know when women can no longer sleep through any of the above methods, then labor has begun in earnest. Or she is awake and can then actively move the labor forward with consciousness and purpose.
The biggest enemy of a first time mom is fatigue - not malpositioning, not risks, not inner fears... fatigue. If we can somehow impart the extreme importance of resting and resting more, we might begin to subdue the subtle sabotage lack of sleep can cause.