I remember thinking more times than I can count after my first baby was born “If he would sleep through the night just once I could finally catch up on some sleep!”
And then, when he finally did, I couldn’t sleep at all!
I was tossing and turning all night, getting up multiple times, unable to fall back to sleep after I woke… All while my baby slept soundlessly in his crib down the hall.
This was a frustrating state of mind to be in!
I was completely distraught thinking about how unfair it was that my baby was finally sleeping through the night and now it was ME that couldn’t get to sleep.
What Is Postpartum Insomnia?
Postpartum insomnia can be one of the most frustrating complications to deal with after delivery.
It can affect your mood and energy levels dramatically and lead to patterns that can contribute to a negative lifestyle.
Insomnia can keep you from enjoying time with family and friends at a time when your support network is critical to your well being.
Being isolated can make it harder to deal with hormonal changes, the baby blues, and postpartum depression.
Symptoms a new mom is likely to experience with their insomnia include:
- Feeling moody and on edge
- Restlessness and anxiety
- Afraid that they won’t hear their baby crying
- Hearing phantom crying or baby sounds
- Tossing and turning
- Feeling uncomfortable, too hot or cold
- Not being able to fall back to sleep after waking
Hormonal transitions are associated with bouts of insomnia which is another reason why so many women suffer from this condition postpartum.
Insomnia can also happen as a response to stress. As new moms, our stress levels are increased when we have new babies at home.
Stress we experience during the day activates our adrenal glands and nervous system in order to trigger our stress management cascade.
Our body then tells our brain to start producing stress management hormones in the pituitary gland called cortisol and adrenaline.
This causes us to feel restless and anxious and inhibits sleep, although we still feel fatigued.
If these symptoms persist there can be serious long term consequences such as high blood pressure, severe anxiety and depression, postpartum depression, weight gain, an altered perception of the world including hallucinations and psychosis and delayed response times.
Your general lack of alertness can also be hazardous to yourself and others due to the sheer lack of sleep.
Postpartum Insomnia Treatment
You should conduct a bit of a personal audit to see what your sleep routine looks like.
There are a number of common habits that can be detrimental to one’s ability to get good quality sleep – if you own a smartphone or drink coffee then that could be a good place to start.
By improving some poor habits you may be able to solve the problem without medical intervention.
We will break things down into three sections here:
- Remove habits that inhibit sleep
- Add routines that promote sleep
- Seek medical help
While it is preferred by many to keep doctors out of it when not needed, do not ever hesitate to seek out medical help if your insomnia is severe.
If you feel overwhelming sadness, hostility, extreme mood swings or anxiety as these can be signs of postpartum depression and immediate intervention should be sought.
Remove Habits That Inhibit Sleep
1. Cut Out Caffeine
Especially close to bedtime. Its best to limit yourself to one caffeinated beverage per day and if you are breastfeeding, you may want to consider cutting out the caffeine completely.
Make sure to drink any caffeine before noon if you do continue to consume it, this way all caffeine is guaranteed to be out of your bloodstream before bedtime.
2. Say No To Electronics
At least one hour before you plan to go to bed. Using electronic devices such as tablets, smartphones and watching TV causes overstimulation in the brain and makes it harder to fall asleep at night.
New research has also shown that the backlighting from handheld electronic devices actually lowers the amount of melatonin, the sleep hormone, that our brain produces, tricking us into thinking it isn’t quite time to go to sleep yet.
There are plenty of apps that will remove the blue light from your devices. I use Flux on all of mine.
It changes the setting on sunrise and sunset to ease the effects the light has on your brain.
3. Give Yourself Headspace To Sleep
If you are a Mom then you are probably also a worrier. I am yet to meet a Mother who does not spend half her day thinking about what-ifs.
While a natural tendency for most it can prevent your brain from shutting down.
What if the baby wakes up and I can’t hear them? What if something goes wrong in their sleep?
You could really drive yourself nuts thinking about all the things that could go wrong. But as long as you have taken the proper precautions chances are that everything will be fine.
While you cannot just switch your brain off, you can try and give yourself some headspace by asking your partner to take on the leading role for the night and possibly sleep in the nursery.
Or maybe even a night at the grandparents will help.
The best thing you can do is openly discuss what is bothering you can check that you have proactively done all you can to minimize any risks.
It may not solve the problem, but it will help.
Routines And Sleep Aids
4. Turn On A Fan
Or use another source of white noise to try to help you relax or fall asleep. Some moms like to use a CD or mp3 player that has nature sounds or weather sounds on them.
Cooling down the room can also help you sleep easier.
5. Black Out Curtains, Or Eye Masks
These can help block out the light if you need complete darkness to get to sleep.
Some people have trouble getting to sleep if there is even the smallest shred of light shining into the room.
Even if you don’t, you could see a big increase in the quality of your sleep when you are in complete darkness.
This a really good way to relax and help you to feel drowsy before bed.
You can practice simple breathing techniques and muscle relaxing exercises to help you relieve tension and anxiety at night and relieve postpartum insomnia.
You can also ask your partner for help in guided breathing and meditation exercises, or just check out some of the thousands of free videos on youtube:
Postpartum massage therapy can be a great source of relaxation and stress relief.
Ask your partner for a light massage, or even a light back or head scratch.
This is a great way to let go of tension and have a relaxing, intimate conversation at the end of the day with your loved one as well.
I am sure they will be more than happy to help!
Similar to meditation, Yoga is a great way to clear your mind before sleep.
The gentle exercise can be a great thing to do post baby as well to help relax and strengthen your muscles after delivery.
People who practice yoga are able to sleep better, have better quality of sleep, and feel more rested throughout the day.
A little self love can go a long way through this period.
9. Herbal Remedies
Chamomile, lavender or jasmine teas are all a helpful part of a pre-bed routine.
The warmth of the tea helps your body relax and just the routine itself can eventually signal to your brain that it is time to wind down.
There are also plenty of aromatherapy lotions, sprays, and essential oils that can be purchased that are said to induce sleep as well as over the counter natural sleep aid supplements such as melatonin or valerian.
Ask the pharmacists about non-habit forming sleep-aids as a last resort, they are available without a prescription but do contain ingredients that can reduce breast milk.
So best to avoid these if you are breastfeeding.
10. Speak To A Lactation Consultant Or Doctor
Further to the above point, if you are nursing, then speak to a lactation consultant before starting on any over the counter supplements.
Your nursing routine could be contributing to broken sleep and a lack of a reliable sleeping pattern for your body to adjust to. This is where a Lactation Consultant can help.
The timing and duration of your feeds can influence how long your baby will stay full, and as a result they would wake less frequently… at least for that purpose anyway.
A nursing schedule will help you get more rest over time as you are your baby adjust to this routine.
Final Word – Don’t Wait!
The stress of this life changing event coupled with the crazy hormone changes that are taking place in your body will make it hard to relax the first few days following the birth of your baby.
At first, you may not know the difference between what is normal around the clock care a newborn needs, and what could be developing insomnia. in the first few weeks after birth it really doesn’t matter.
After a few weeks though if you are struggling to relax and get decent sleep, or your are suffering some of the symptoms discussed in this article then it may be time to take action.
A small lifestyle could make all the difference to your quality of sleep. We have also listedten more sleep hacks for new moms here.
Talk to your doctor if your lack of sleep is preventing you from living a normal life, and don’t be afraid to tap into those support networks.