Unless you had a home birth, one of the luxuries you probably looked forward to most in the hospital was coming home to sleep in your own bed without nurses, noise, and bright hospital lights to keep you awake.
At last, you’d be able to snuggle up with your infant and sleep whenever the two of you wanted some rest.
So, why is it just as hard to fall asleep now that you’re finally at home?
Postpartum or postnatal insomnia often affects new moms. It’s more than just being exhausted, however. Even when your baby is sleeping, mom might not find the shuteye she needs. In this article, we’ll share our top tips for dealing with postpartum insomnia.
What is Postpartum Insomnia?
There’s one important distinction between postpartum insomnia and regular run-of-the-mill not sleeping because of the demands of an infant. Insomnia after giving birth is when you can’t fall asleep even when your new little bundle is comfortably snoozing.
You may be feeling anxious about their care, wondering if you’ll hear them cry if they need you. You might be concerned about their safety and well-being. If you can’t stop your mind from racing and playing out worst-case scenarios, it’s no wonder you’re not sleeping!
There are multiple causes, and just one of the reasons explained below could be main the trigger. However, it’s often a combination of factors that create a perfect storm of postnatal insomnia. If it’s not handled quickly, it could become chronic and negatively affect your health.
The miracle of birth may be miraculous, but it also wreaks havoc on your hormones and throws everything off balance. Your reproductive hormones have plummeted, which is normal, but it takes time for your body to find its equilibrium again. And, because hormones influence the function of our internal clock telling us when it’s time to be awake and asleep, even a slight fluctuation can confuse things and make it a challenge to sleep.
You probably noticed excessive sweating during the night while you were at the hospital counting the days until you could come home. The hormone fluctuations we discussed earlier are also responsible for flushing your body of the water that helped support you and baby during pregnancy but is no longer needed.
Needless to say, lying in a pool of sweat is not conducive to sleep.
Postpartum Mood Disorders
Whether it’s the onset of postpartum depression or PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), you may be going through emotional challenges that add even more stress to life and make sleep elusive. If what you’re experiencing is more than just slight anxiety or temporary OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), seek help from a trained professional or consult with your doctor about how to manage serious cases of depression.
Those nighttime feedings are bound to disrupt your internal clock, which makes falling asleep at predictable times a challenge. When you get up to feed your infant during the night, make sure you don’t turn on bright lights or scroll through emails or social media on your phone. The lights from the room and your electronic devices signal your body that it’s daytime, and this could affect your ability to get back to sleep after a feeding.
Sometimes new parents might struggle to drift off because their brains are so overwhelmed. Juggling multiple baby tasks at once is a big job, so by the time the mind finally has some quiet time, it may feel the need to process everything that’s recently occurred— labor, pregnancy, coming home with a new baby, and coping with a new lifestyle.
Parents go through a lot of changes in a short span of time, and your mind will need to process it all. The calmer you can stay, the easier it should be to drift to sleep. Additionally, there is no shame in seeking a therapist or counselor to help you talk through recent shifts.
Hormone fluctuations, lack of sleep, and the stress of caring for an infant are all bound to cause mood swings. These symptoms are linked to both insomnia and postpartum depression.
When you’re not getting enough rest, it ups your irritability levels. Sleep deprivation, even after just one night, has the effect of rewiring your brain to give more power to the “fight or flight” response.
Negative emotions and mood swings are common in cases of sleeplessness, and they’re often exacerbated by postnatal insomnia.
Anxiety is a vicious cycle that will rob you of precious hours of shuteye. It starts innocently enough. One night of sleeplessness seems harmless, but it often makes the person worried that they won’t be able to sleep the next night. The cycle continues until it becomes a full-blown case of insomnia.
Tips for Coping with Postpartum Insomnia
Sleep When Your Baby Sleeps
Many new moms are tempted to use the hours that baby sleeps as a time to catch up on chores or other tasks. While you won’t need to shift your sleep schedule indefinitely, it’s wise to catch a catnap whenever your infant dozes, at least at first, to make sure you get enough hours of rest each night.
Go to Bed Early
Even though you know your little one can wake up at any moment, crying out to be fed, it’s important to still go to bed and rest for as long as you can before they need you. The first few months of your baby’s life means you’ll have to catch sleep whenever and wherever you can get it. Staying up late doesn’t help the situation.
Make Your Bedroom a Sleep Haven
Sleep experts say that your bedroom should be used for only two activities: sleeping and sex. This means removing the television, electronic devices, and work-related documents. If you’re accustomed to playing with your children in the bedroom or getting last-minute work done, it won’t gear you up for sleep. The key is to train your mind so that as soon as you walk into your bedroom, you’re getting signals that it’s time for bed.
Share the Work with Your Partner
Hopefully, you’ve got a partner who’s willing to share the workload. Getting up for every nightly feeding is an unfair burden that should be shared. If you’re nursing, prepare pumped bottles beforehand and show your partner how to warm and administer them properly.
Keep Stress & Anxiety Away
Easier said than done? Remember, you are not alone, and don't expect too much of yourself. Babies are more resilient than we give them credit for. There will be plenty of time for organizing and looking presentable later.
Meditation right before sleep helps, as well as establishing a bedtime routine. You can also try relaxing activities like a warm bath, a massage, or a stroll around the neighborhood.
Keep It Dark
Our bodies operate on a 24-hour sleep-wake cycle. This cycle signals us to feel drowsy and sleep when it’s dark and to be awake and alert when it’s light.
If you mess with your internal clock by turning on bright lights at two o’clock in the morning, it’s going to make it that much more challenging to fall back asleep after a feeding.
Keep your home dark at night, and limit illumination to nightlights whenever possible.
You may feel the need to consume more caffeine to keep you awake during the day, but too much of it can keep you awake at night. Limit your intake to one or two cups per day and stop the coffee (and all other caffeinated sources) by two in the afternoon.
Read More: How Caffeine Affects Your Sleep
Avoid Screen Time
Some parents idly check their phones during feeding sessions. Whether it’s social media, news sites, or emails, the light from your screen is going to affect the function of your internal clock. Remember, light at night tells your body that it’s morning, so keep the phone off in the middle of the night.
Deep Breathing and Muscle Relaxation Techniques
They say that taking deep breaths to a count of ten is a fast and foolproof way to relax and calm down. You might find some success with this technique in your situation, but we also recommend something called “belly breathing” that we discovered from Mother.ly.
Here’s how to do it:
- Lie flat on your back and place one hand on your stomach. Place the other one over your chest.
- Inhale deeply through your nose and let the air fill your belly. Your stomach will rise as the air fills you up.
- As you finish the inhale, hold your breath for a count of three.
- Slowly exhale through your mouth, and feel your stomach drop back to its natural position.
- Continue until you feel ready for sleep. You may even fall asleep during this exercise!
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does postpartum insomnia usually last?
The onset is immediate, and it can last for months if not addressed. However, if you try some of the techniques mentioned in this article, you can find relief within one night. If you’ve tried these tips and you’re still struggling, it may be time to consult with your doctor.
Can it be linked to postnatal depression?
Yes. In general, sleep deprivation, depression, and insomnia already share a strong link. When you add a recent delivery into the mix, postnatal depression can be a major contributing factor to insomnia. While it’s not a cure-all, getting your bedtime back on track could potentially help with postnatal or postpartum depression.
Will this be a normal symptom after pregnancy?
About 25 to 50 percent of new moms experience this condition. So, yes, it is common. However, we believe that it’s never “normal” to suffer. We encourage you to take care of yourself so you can get the rest you need and deserve. If your sleepless nights and erratic schedule go unchecked, then those patterns could become routine and affect your sleep for years to come.
Since we haven’t said this yet, we feel some long overdue congratulations are in order. You’re a new mom! Granted, the road will be a bit bumpy, and those jokes about being “mom tired” are no laughing matter. The level of exhaustion that moms feel can never be understood by those who haven’t experienced it.
It’s even more frustrating when you’re tired to the bone and can’t fall asleep! We hope these tips have given you some relief, and we wish you the best of luck on your journey of motherhood!
Sources and References:
Jill Zwarensteyn is the editor for Sleep Advisor and a certified sleep science coach. She is enthusiastic about providing helpful and engaging information on all things sleep and wellness.
Based in Los Angeles, she is an experienced writer and journalist who enjoys spending her free time at the beach, hiking, reading, or exploring new places around town.
She’s also an avid traveler who has a personal goal of being able to successfully sleep on an airplane someday.
Emma Ashford is a Sleep Therapist, Founder of Sleep Seekers and speaks internationally on sleep education and insomnia. She is one of the UK’s leading Sleep Experts and Insomnia Therapists. Emma is a highly-experienced psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, and sleep disorder coach; she has worked with hundreds of patients, applying her unique approach to help clients overcome insomnia.
Emma’s work has been featured in The Guardian and Natural Health Magazine, and she has been featured on the BBC's Look North, advising on sleep during the Covid19 pandemic.