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Have you been wide awake at night even after a tiring and stressful day of babysitting? Are you tossing and turning in bed even if your newborn and your partner are peacefully asleep, and everything is just fine? Are you feeling cranky and helpless due to persistent sleepless nights and wondering if there is a way out of this frustrating problem? Yes, there is.
What is Postpartum Insomnia?
Postpartum Insomnia is a condition in which an exhausted new mom badly needs sleep but struggles to get any even though the environment is totally conducive to rest and sleep. It is known to occur in approximately 60% women eight weeks after delivery.
Is Postnatal Insomnia Normal?
Postnatal sleep problems are quite natural because of the overwhelming changes in your body, your hormones, your lifestyle and habits. The life-changing experience of having a new family member who needs 24×7 care, stresses out all new parents. It’s a natural phase of life and it gradually settles down. However, if sleep problems persist long after postpartum, you should consult a doctor.
What Causes Insomnia after Childbirth?
There are 4 major causes of postpartum insomnia:
1. Hormonal imbalance
Postnatal hormones fluctuations are one of the main causes of sleep problems. Low estrogen levels cause sleep disorders and often lead to depression.
2. Night sweat
Some hormones in your body try to eliminate fluids that have had a role to play during pregnancy. Profuse sweating at night is a part of this process. It can make you sticky, hot and sleepless.
3. Mood swings
Unpredictable emotions may be caused by postpartum anxiety, depression, stress and obsessive-compulsive disorders. These can impact your sleep habits and cause insomnia.
4. Baby feeding
As a new mother, you have to feed the baby at odd hours. This can cause sleep disturbances. Sometimes you may take a long time to fall asleep after feeding the baby and at times sleep may not come at all!
Symptoms of Post Pregnancy Insomnia
A sleepless mother may display these symptoms:
- Tossing, turning in bed
- Too hot, too cold
- Hot flashes and night sweats
- Anxiousness about the sleeping child
- Strange dreams
- Sometimes hearing imaginary sounds like the baby crying, the bottle of feed falling on the floor etc.
- Light sleeping
- Waking up at slightest disturbances
- Mood swings
- A sense of great misery and/or hostility
- Extreme apprehension
Treatment for Insomnia after Giving Birth
You should seek treatment for this sleep problem early so that it doesn’t become chronic and to also prevent associated complications like depression, hypertension, weight problems etc. There are some tried and tested remedies that can help. However, consult your doctor before trying them.
1. Chamomile tea
This is a short-term treatment. A research on postpartum women recommended that consumption of chamomile tea for two weeks improved sleep quality and associated depression. However, the maximum duration of the effects of this tea is only four weeks.
2. Lavender tea
This is also a short-term therapy. The fragrance of lavender can apparently induce positive emotions in a mother for her baby. In a research conducted on postnatal women, they were given a cup of lavender tea every day for two weeks. After two weeks they seemed to display a stronger bond with their babies and lesser swings of depression and tiredness. The therapeutic effects of lavender were also only for four weeks.
In another research experiment, postpartum women received acupressure on a point in the ear (auricular point) called the Shen Men pressure point for two weeks, four times daily. The results displayed improvement in sleep quality of these women.
4. Massage Therapy and Yoga
A Taiwanese experiment subjected a group of postpartum women to 20-minutes of back massage every evening for five days. This apparently improved the sleep quality of these women. You can do a massage with aromatherapy oils and lotions but do check if they interfere with feeding before you begin. You can also do some yoga for relaxing effects.
5. Mineral Supplements
Magnesium and iron have a prominent role in averting neurological problems. So, taking supplements that contain these minerals can help induce sleep and alleviate depression.
6. Sleeping Aids
You could take some safe, gentle and non-addictive OTC sleep medicines like Nytol, Sominex or Simply Sleep. Take them for a short time. However, be aware that the main element in these medications is diphenhydramine, which can impact the flow of breast milk in some nursing mothers. There are natural products too like Serenity that can help. However, please consult your doctor before you take any of these.
7. Cognitive-behavioural Healing
A study suggested that cognitive-behavioural remedies could improve sleeping patterns and behavioural problems in women with postpartum insomnia and depression. For this, you should seek the help of a trained specialist.
Tips to Deal with Insomnia after Having a Baby
Postnatal insomnia cannot be dealt with quickly and easily. Here are a few tips that may help you manage the problem better
1. Get Sleep with your Baby
Try to catch up with sleep whenever your baby sleeps. Leave the household chores to a nanny or someone else in the family. What you need to do is just relax during the time your baby sleeps. So, if sleep does not come easy for you at odd hours just do something that will relax you instead.
2. Sleep Early
Sleep as early as possible. Do not surf the net, settle the room or talk to friends on phone etc. Try and induce sleep early with a hot sauna, reading a book, listening to calming music or drinking something soothing. You can also wear blackout masks to bring on sleep.
3. Seek Support
Share your workload with your partner and/or other family members like changing diapers, bathing, dressing the baby, preparing a bottle feed etc. Seek support even at night, for instance, if you are making a bottle feed. If your sleep problems are really very acute you could insist that your partner/a family member sleeps in at the nursery with the baby instead of you.
4. Track the Baby’s Sleep Habits
If you understand your baby’s sleep cycle you can plan your day better, be less anxious and get your own sleep. You can also consult a lactating specialist if your nursing schedule is interfering with your sleep cycle.
5. Stress Busters
Try to destress with some meditation, walks or listening to soothing music. Short, light exercises and deep breathing are also a great stress buster and sleep inducer, according to studies.
If your mind is cluttered with all the chores you need to complete next day just take a pen and paper, jot them down and forget about them for the night. You can also try to de-clutter your mind by simply counting yourself to sleep, backwards from 100 to 1. This is a very simple method to empty your mind of other thoughts and bring on sleep.
6. Control Caffeine Consumption
For a new mom, coffee may be a quick boost to mood swings. But at the end of the day, it will actually cause sleep problems. Try to restrict to just one cup of coffee latest by 2 pm.
7. Gadgets Off
Switch off electronic gadgets an hour before sleeping. Do not surf the net while nursing the baby. Laptops, cell phones, and TV can excite the brain and disrupt sleep. The light from these gadgets is said to reduce melatonin level that affects your sleep habits.
8. Soothing Bedroom Environment
Make your bedroom décor and setting soothing. Overall you can keep a soothing wall colour or dim lighting. You can make it totally dark by fixing thick drapes on the windows if the slightest light is hampering your sleep.
You should also fix the temperature of the room to 68 to 72-degree Fahrenheit that studies suggest is ideal for both you and your baby.
Here are some common questions women have about postpartum insomnia.
1. Can Postpartum Depression Cause Insomnia?
Sleep and depression are closely associated problems. However, it is not known yet which causes which? Whatever it is, they are linked to each other. If you are unable to sleep at night and feel very tired all the time you may be suffering from postpartum depression. If the frequency of this is high and continues for a long time please consult your doctor. Also, note that postpartum insomnia can occur without any signs of depression as well.
2. What is the Difference Between Sleep Deprivation and Insomnia?
Sleep deprivation and insomnia are not the same. Sleep deprivation is when you cannot sleep because of an external disturbance like an ill pet or a baby, strenuous work hours, and noisy party next door etc.
Insomnia, on the other hand, is the inability to fall asleep even when everything is calm and conducive to sleep. This is usually caused by an underlying, internal problem associated with insomnia like physical or mental health problems, job or marital stress, or any other life stress.
Postpartum insomnia is quite common and can be managed with the right measures.