These days, it’s like you dread night time because you lie there awake and feel exhausted, alone and drained.
If you’re here researching insomnia in motherhood it’s probably because sleep has been a struggle. Let me guess: you can’t sleep no matter how tired you are and you lie awake night after night unable to just shut off your brain. You’re exhausted throughout the day and when you do get to sleep, you wake up with your family and you don’t feel fully rested. You look forward to getting some sleep but when the time comes, it feels impossible. If this has been going on for a while, you may have noticed that your insomnia is having an impact on you both physically and mentally.
Before, you used to be able to just close your eyes and before you’d know it, the next day would arrive. Now, it’s like you dread night time. You lie there awake and feel exhausted, alone and drained.
It’s strange how in early motherhood, there’s so much focus given to your baby’s sleep… but there isn’t much attention given to yours. Insomnia in motherhood is really common though! Many women start having this experience during pregnancy and for some, it can even continue two years postpartum. And, it can have a serious impact on mental health.
If sleep has completely gone out the window since becoming a parent, you’re in the right place. Here, I’m outlining what’s going on and how you can start to fix it.
Why insomnia and anxiety are linked
When it comes to anxiety, people can sometimes overlook insomnia as a symptom. We might first think of things like a jittery sensation, butterflies in the tummy, feeling nervous without really knowing why or feeling sick to the stomach. But insomnia and anxiety are strongly connected. If you experience anxiety, you might have issues with ruminating, stressing over minor things, obsessing over intrusive thoughts, or needing to feel in control of certain areas of your life. These are the types of thought patterns that keep you up well into the wee hours of the morning. This connection makes sense, right? You cannot be in a relaxed state and an anxious state at the same time. Hence why you just cannot seem to doze off. You’re stressed!
Insomnia in motherhood: Why now
Insomnia is linked to anxiety regardless of what phase of life you’re in. But some of you may be wondering why it’s really picking up since you’ve become a mom. Why is it that since having children, sleep has become such an issue? Here’s a quick breakdown of six possible explanations:
1. Physical health changes.
Think about the things happening right now that make it physically hard to fall asleep. Pain after birth, breastfeeding, handling hormonal changes, a dysregulated circadian rhythm and increased nighttime urination are all factors that are common in new motherhood and can impact how you sleep at night.
2. Increased stress.
Um hello, motherhood is super stressful! A stressed mom is going to be one who can’t seem to rest easily and get a proper night’s sleep. Think about all that’s on your plate now and how you’ve historically coped with stress. You’re literally keeping an infant alive and that baby has so many needs that you have to meet! That’s no small feat. You may also be experiencing relationship distress. In a two-parent family, there are factors that naturally bring one parent into the primary caregiver role. This can feel overwhelming and create disconnection or resentment.
3. Mental health distress.
Past mental health issues have a tendency to resurface during this time. Do you have a history of depression or anxiety? Chances are that that can be triggered. It’s also important to understand that insomnia is a state of hyper-arousal. Pregnant and postpartum mothers experience more cognitive hyperarousal than women in the general population. This looks like repetitive thought patterns or ruminating which prevents you from sleeping.
4. Behavioural changes.
Take a look at how your life has changed lately. (I mean allllll the ways!) One logistical thing that’s different now is that you have to care for a baby during the night. She cries, wakes up, needs feeding, etc. That means that you’re regularly getting up during the night and not sleeping as you normally would. This itself isn’t insomnia but it could trigger circadian dysregulation which in turn can cause insomnia.
5. Lifestyle factors.
Sugar, alcohol, coffee and lack of movement all contribute to poor sleep quality of insomnia. During early motherhood all of these things can come together to play a role in a sleepless and exhausted period. Think about how the stress of parenting might make you reach for a glass of wine or sugary snack a little more frequently than you may have done before. And I’m willing to guess that nursing a baby or caring for multiple young kids has you totally out of sync with your yoga or running routine. This all plays a role in your sleep.
6. Individual factors.
There are a bunch of things about you as a unique individual that can lead to sleep problems. For example, perfectionism, being highly sensitive, or being reactive to stress are all elements that could make it more likely for a person to have issues with insomnia. Insomnia, anxiety, stress, and adjusting to motherhood isn’t one-size-fits-all. Your personality, needs and way of dealing with stressors all weigh in.
Falling asleep: How to actually make that happen
Ok so you now might have a better idea of what’s causing your insomnia and why it’s happening right now in this stage of your life. But I get you: you’re exhausted and you need solutions. What are some tangible things that you can actually do about the insomnia you’re experiencing lately? How do you solve it and get the rest you need in order to be the parent you want to be?
1. Assess potential lifestyle changes.
To the point about lifestyle and how it can affect sleep, assessing habits or your routine is a good starting point. Does anything need to change? And if so, what and how are you realistically going to do that? Keep in mind that a lot of general sleep advice won’t necessarily work for a new mother. It’s probably not feasible to get to a gym every day but could you put your baby in the stroller and commit to morning walks together?
2. Share the load with your partner.
A lot of what keeps us awake is knowing that our baby will probably wake up pretty soon and anticipating that keeps us from drifting off. If this is the case, it could be time to take a look at what you’re doing during the night versus what your partner is doing. If you’re doing the bulk as they sleep easily, maybe it’s time to have a conversation about divvying up the taks more evenly. (And to learn how to do that, check out my mini course here!) For example, maybe you pump and on certain nights, they take care of feeding. Or, they could take on morning tasks like making breakfast and lunches for the other kids while you get an hour or two of sleep.
3. Address unhelpful thoughts.
Sometimes we are unable to sleep because the thoughts swirling around in our minds are causing stress which further prevents us from relaxing. Thoughts (whether they be positive or negative) create a reaction and emotion. So negative thoughts or beliefs about sleep can cause you to feel anxious, upset, frustrated, or irritated. That’s not exactly conducive to feeling rested is it? If you notice that this is what’s going on as you see 1:00 a.m., 2:00 a.m., and 3:00 a.m., try managing this by switching out negative thinking with something neutral or positive. Here are some examples:
“I’m going to be exhausted tomorrow.”
“I’ll never fall asleep. It’s not going to happen!”
“I hate how sleep has been going lately.”
“Even if I fall asleep now, I’ll only get a few hours of sleep. I should cancel tomorrow’s plans.”
“At least I’m resting. That’s still helpful.”
“I may not be at my best tomorrow but it won’t be the end of the world.”
“This is temporary. Many people go through this too.”
“I’ll be a little tired but I’ll get through my day.”
Sleep problems and insomnia can be tough to deal with especially in the first weeks after welcoming a new baby into the family. Yes, continuing to struggle with insomnia can have a negative impact on your mental health and lead to things like depression or postpartum anxiety. But insomnia is curable just like anything related to mental health. You might feel tired now or notice yourself dreading another sleepless night, but just know that this isn’t permanent. With proper research, support and changes, you can definitely try the wide range of tactics out there to get back to a place where you feel more calm and rested.
If you’re at the beginning of your research and you know that insomnia has been a pretty big problem in pregnancy or postpartum, you may want to check out my workshop on getting to the root of insomnia… and fixing it! For just $17, you can start to understand why this has been happening, and learn all the most effective tools to put an end to this problem. Picture not having anxiety over insomnia anymore and actually feeling energized to tackle your days each morning.