Sleepless nights typically go hand in hand when you have a new baby. Newborns don’t typically sleep through the night until they are a few months old, and even then “sleeping through the night” might only mean sleeping for 6-7 hours at a stretch.
Given the fact that “exhausted” is how many new mothers might describe themselves in their first few weeks after giving birth, the idea of postpartum insomnia might seem strange. However, for many women, sleep doesn’t come easily, or they have trouble staying asleep no matter how tired they are. Some of this is due to the stress and life changes that come with having a new baby. Changes in hormones, which influence natural sleep-wake rhythms, can also contribute to insomnia, as well as natural changes in brain function. New mothers are naturally more alert to the sounds of their child during the night, which can have a profound effect on their sleep quality.
Because insomnia is a major risk factor for postpartum depression, it’s important to be alert to the signs and take steps to make sleep a priority. Getting back on track to a normal (or a new normal) sleep routine as soon as possible after baby can reduce the risk of postpartum depression and help you stay healthy and feel more energetic. Starting with a few basic changes can make a big difference in overcoming this issue.
Postpartum Insomnia: 8 Sleep Tips for New Moms
Identify Patterns and Triggers
If your insomnia doesn’t occur every night but happens regularly enough to be an issue, think about what happened on the days when you can’t sleep. Sometimes, clear patterns will emerge; for instance, when the baby is especially fussy, or when you feel extra overwhelmed by your new responsibilities, you might have trouble sleeping. Try keeping a sleep journal where you record when you go to bed and wake up when you take naps, and when you aren’t sleeping, and look for patterns. These commonalities might reveal places where you can make changes, or make it clear that you need to ask for help with certain things, so you can improve your sleep.
An extra cup of coffee (or two or three) might be a part of your daily routine now that you aren’t getting as much rest as you did before, but too much caffeine can wreak havoc on your sleep schedule. To make sure that you aren’t unintentionally keeping yourself awake, cut back on caffeine or eliminate it after 2 p.m. entirely to ensure that it’s not causing your sleep problems.
Create the Right Environment for Sleep
Making your bedroom conducive to sleep can help you get that much-needed rest after baby. Your room should be cool, dark, and quiet; even when you use a baby monitor, a white noise machine won’t interfere with your ability to hear the baby. Cleaning and decluttering may be the last thing on your mind right now, but keeping your sleep area as neat and tidy as possible can help you get more rest. If you’re struggling to keep up with laundry or making the bed, ask your partner to pitch in. The more relaxing your room, the easier it will be to fall asleep.
Create a Bedtime Ritual
You’re probably working on establishing a bedtime routine with your little one, but don’t forget to the same with yourself. Setting clear boundaries and spending time getting ready for sleep can do wonders for your sleep cycle. An hour or so before bed, start winding down. Turn off electronics, tackle any small tasks that will keep you awake (loading the dishwasher, putting laundry in the dryer) and spend the rest of the time on yourself. Take a shower, spend a few minutes doing some relaxing stretches, and focus on getting calm and in the right place for sleep.
Consider How You’re Handling Wake Ups
During the first few months of your baby’s life, nighttime wakings are a fact of life. How you handle them, though, can have a significant effect on your own sleep. Some of the things that you do while caring for your baby in the night can keep you awake, like scrolling through your phone while your baby eats. Getting out of bed and turning on the lights while you make a bottle — a process that can take several minutes — can cause you to fully wake up and make it harder to fall back to sleep.
To minimize disruptions, take a look at your routine and look for things that are keeping you awake. Before heading to bed, do as much prep as you can to minimize disruptions. For instance, if you’re bottle-feeding, you might measure out water and powder for formula, and have all of the burp cloths and pillows ready to go. Keep your phone out of reach so you aren’t tempted to scroll through Facebook while you nurse. Making these small changes can help you avoid waking up completely, and having trouble getting back to sleep when the baby is settled.
Don’t Try to Sleep
When you’re having trouble sleeping, don’t lie in bed trying to force your brain to “shut down” and let you sleep. Sleep is a natural state that can be forced, and staying in bed thinking about how you can’t sleep is only going to make you more anxious and keep you from sleeping. Instead, get out of bed and do something else until you’re sleepy. Resist the temptation to turn on the television or grab your phone, though, as the light they emit will keep you awake. Try reading a book for a little while (with a soft book light), working on some needlework or knitting, or even folding some laundry or making a meal plan for the week. Do anything that is calming and relaxing that will help you get sleepy, and then head back to bead.
Get Outside and Exercise
Exercise might be the last thing on your mind right now, but physical activity — especially outdoors — is good for your body and your sleep patterns. Natural light is vital to maintaining your Circadian rhythm, which basically helps you sleep at night and be awake during the day. Once your doctor has cleared you for physical activity, take a daily walk with your infant, or spend naptime following a low-impact workout video. You will help improve your mood and sleep better — and lose some of that baby weight.
Talk With Your Doctor
If sleeping continues to be challenging even when you’ve made these changes, and you aren’t getting rest more than a few nights per week, talk with your doctor. Not getting enough sleep can be detrimental to all aspects of your life, and your doctor may be able to suggest additional solutions, including supplements, sleep aids, or therapy to help you get back on track. Don’t accept sleepless nights as something that just goes with the territory of having a newborn, but deal with it quickly to protect your physical and mental health.
Robyn South is a relations specialist for Sleep Advisor, a site that covers everything related to sleep, from mattresses to the newest science behind sleep technology and wellness breakthroughs.