Can’t Sleep? When it’s YOU, not your baby (he’s sound asleep!).

Sleep deprivation can play havoc with your mind your body and your soul. You know that, right? You know this because you are the mum of a new baby or an older baby or a toddler or perhaps a baby and a toddler. So how exactly are you meant to get sleep when your kids don’t – sleep, that is?

You know that baby sleep studies define ‘all night’ as five hours. Five hours in a row would be a dream come true –if it ever came true! You have heard all the clichés about sleeping when the baby sleeps – but when do you actually get anything done like the endless damn washing that one tiny baby creates or the food the rest of the family, including you, needs to eat.

Even when the little ones sleep, how do you quieten that mummy brain stream of consciousness of all the ‘to dos’ that race through your head? What about the crazy spinning voice in your head that does maths all night? If I get to sleep right now, I’ll get 2 hours and 45 minutes sleep before she next wakes. You are so busy doing the mental arithmetic as the clock clicks over that eventually you are in a total panic because you KNOW your baby will be awake in less than half an hour – so you just lie there frozen, frustrated and angry, waiting for the yell that says, she’s awake. Relief: I can feed her and get back to sleep – Ill still get a couple of hours before the sun comes up. Better check the phone to make sure. Oh, I’ll have a quick look at face-book first – half an hour later…… hell, the room is getting lighter, I can hear the traffic…. Damn!

Sarah, mother of a four month old says, “I am utterly exhausted and it is making me more anxious during the day.  it’s not my baby – she is sleeping pretty well, mostly only waking for one or two feeds – it’s me. I find I no longer know how to ‘switch off’.  And it’s a vicious cycle: I am so overtired that my mind won’t let me sleep.  I sometimes can go to sleep okay and get a block of 2-3 hours but once woken for the first feed, I am unable to go back to sleep.”

Sarah’s experience seems to be fairly common to mums with young babies. However, not being able to sleep while your baby is sleeping peacefully can be a red flag that you may have a treatable medical illness such as postnatal depression, especially if your wakefulness is accompanied by other symptoms such as anxiety, teariness, mood swings and feelings of hopelessness.

Of course some decent sleep may be all you need to make a difference to how you feel – it’s a vicious cycle, isn’t it? It is worth having a health check, especially your vitamin D, Thyroid and iron levels: Leah, a mother of two says, “I found I couldn’t sleep after both of my babies, even when they were sleeping. it turned out that my iron and vitamin D levels were low. Taking a liquid iron twice a day made a huge difference. “

Once you have ruled out any underlying medical reasons for your mummy insomnia, here are some things to try to get those essential zzzs:

  • Prepare your sleep environment: switch off screens an hour before bed – and banish them from the bedroom. The light from devices and computer screens affects the brain’s production of melatonin, your natural sleep-inducing hormone. Dim lighting as you read or relax before bed will help trigger some melatonin production.
  • Banish clocks from the bedroom: or place them where you can’t see the time, to avoid midnight mathematics (or, how long have I been awake?)
  • Create a gentle bedtime routine for yourself: Have a nice warm bath or shower –one trigger for sleep is a slight drop in core body temperature so after a warm bath, as your body cools, you will naturally begin to feel drowsy and more relaxed (works for kids too).  You may also like to try adding half a cup of epsom salts to your bath – the magnesium from the epsom salts will be absorbed into your body and help you relax. Make a warm drink and take it to bed to sip. A snack of carbs will help release tryptophan (bananas are rich in tryptophan), a precursor to serotonin, a relaxing hormone.
  • Practise deep breathing and/or a guided relaxation  or meditations to help you switch off and enter more relaxed sleep. Check out these free  ‘Relax into Sleep’ and ‘Deep Rest’ meditations by Meditation Oasis HERE
  • Download a talking book or some podcasts to listen to. If you find yourself awake after you have fed your baby, instead of focusing on sleep, pop in earplugs and listen to your download. This will distract your busy mind and over-ride your anxiety. Rather than keeping yourself awake, you will actually find you ‘miss the plot’ because you dozed off. This is much better than missing sleep!

Pinky McKay is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and best-selling author of Sleeping Like a Baby and Parenting By Heart.  Or check out Pinky’s Baby Sleep Seminars.

5 Comments

  1. Alanna Says Reply

    Could it still be mommy insomnia or post partum depression even if I don’t have these nights every single night and get a night where he and I both sleep 4 hours uninterrupted or I am able to drift off after he latches on? By the way, this article is like you snuck into my house and spied on me not sleeping!

  2. Polly Says Reply

    This was me! I found that by cutting back sugar and caffeine helped. I haven’t eliminated it entirely, just try to avoid it after 2pm.

  3. Jj Says Reply

    It’s commen enough for women to develop postpartum thyroid conditions – Graves Disease, which is a hyperactive thyroid, is what I have had experience with. Although I was diagnosed (and did the remission roller coaster) some years before I had my first bub, it can be the physical stress of childbearing/early insomnia of those first months that can kick start this disease into action. Racing mind and inability to sleep dispite exhaustion can be a symptom. So I really encourage any mumma who is a few months PP and not coping to ensure that thyroid levels are checked. Hyperthyroidism is implicated in all sorts of other symptoms, including mental heath, so it is a good thing to rule out.

  4. NW Says Reply

    I suffered the same for a good 6 months until I weaned from breast feeding when baby was 9 months. Visited GPs, psychs and took sleeping aids, none of which really helped. A few weeks after weaning my sleep returned to normal, presumably after hormone levels beginning to stabilize.

  5. Supporting a Friend with Postnatal Depression or Anxiety - Beautiful Breastfeeding Says Reply

    […] right when you most need a network of support. Symptoms include: mood swings, anxiety or panic; sleep disturbances unrelated to the baby’s needs (this seems like a cruel joke – baby is sleeping soundly and you […]

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