Sleeping can be impossible for new moms. Impossible. And everyone from your midwife to your mom will tell you how important it is to get enough sleep, which is the last thing you need to hear when you can't. For me, it's hard to fall asleep at bedtime, impossible to "sleep when the baby sleeps," and difficult to go back to sleep after I wake up. My postpartum depression (PPD) and anxiety make getting sleep even harder, too. Fortunately, I've found that there are things a new mom can do when she can't sleep to relax or, if worst comes to worst, at least make the best out of a bad situation.
I gain some solace from the fact that sleep is elusive for a lot of new moms. As Karen Kleiman MSW, LCSW writes for Psychology Today, insomnia can be caused by postpartum mood disorders like depression and anxiety, and can also make it hard to cope with these disorders, which can easy fuel a devastating, seemingly never-ending cycle. The Baby Sleep Site recommends changing your routine so you can relax and signal to your brain that it's bedtime. The same site also suggests putting your phone away, not drinking caffeine in the evening, and, if possible, trying to break sleep time into shifts with a partner or support person so you can get some sleep when your baby isn't. For me, the answer was getting medical help for my insomnia and my PPD. It's not a cure-all, though. I still wake up most nights, and occasionally can't sleep at bedtime, too, but I'm managing.
If you're like me, new mom, and you've tried everything and still find yourself unable to sleep, please know that you have options. When life hands you insomnia, you can stare at the ceiling and think about every mistake you've ever made, or you can do other things, like the following:
Stare At Your Baby
OK, so obsessively staring at and worrying about your baby can be a sign you're suffering from postpartum depression or anxiety, but, for me, a few quiet moments of marveling at my baby's perfect face were soothing.
Take A Bath And/Or Shower
Honestly, a shower or bath is sometimes better than a nap.
Have A Glass Of Wine
While according to the Sleep Foundation, alcohol can contribute to poor sleep, and it definitely shouldn't be combined with some medications, if your health care provider says it's OK, go ahead and have a glass of wine or beer if it helps you relax and unwind.
Of course, drinking in order to go to sleep is not recommended and, in many cases (especially if you're co-sleeping and/or bed-sharing) can be dangerous. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a 2015 national survey found that 26.9 percent of people 18 or older have engaged in binge drinking in the past month, and 7.0 percent reported that they engaged in heavy alcohol use in the past month. Carefully monitoring your alcohol intake as you adjust to motherhood, a new sleep schedule, and recover from childbirth is an important part of maintaining your health and wellness.
Binge-Watch Your Favorite Show
For insomniacs like me, the middle of the night is Prime Time Television time. If I can't fall back to sleep after getting up with the baby, or discover that he's decided he's up for the day at 4:30 a.m., I catch up on my favorite shows.
Obsess About Every Mistake You've Ever Made
For me, the middle of the night is the perfect time to replay that awkward conversation I had with my boss in 2005. It's also when I review every word I've ever misused, and the things I might have done differently during my pregnancy, childbirth, and new mom life to be a better mom. Yeah, not healthy. Ugh.
In all seriousness, obsessive thoughts postpartum could be a sign that you're suffering from postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). According to the International OCD Foundation, an estimated 80 percent of all new mothers report "nasty, senseless, unacceptable, unwanted thoughts that are similar to those described by mothers with postpartum OCD," even though research indicates that postpartum OCD only affects between 1 and 3 percent of childbearing women.
If you are suffering from obsessive thoughts and/or rituals that are keeping you from sleeping (and/or impacting your daily life negatively in any way) consult your doctor.
Target online and Amazon are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, my friends. Just saying. Not only do I never have to leave my house again, but I can order diapers and formula when I can't sleep.
Late at night, when I can't sleep, I like to quiet my demons by meditating. Sometimes I repeat mantras like "you can't change the past," "you are good enough," or "go to sleep, dammit" while I do.
Nancy Bardacke, C.N.M. and Larissa Duncan, Ph.D., mindfulness teachers at researchers at the UCSF Osher Center in San Francisco, California, found that "parents who cultivated a mindfulness practice before their babies were born reported low incidences of stress, anxiety, and depression during pregnancy and the postpartum period," according to HuffPost.
Plan A Vacation
One of my favorite insomnia activities is planning child-free vacations to my favorite places. Of course, they will probably never happen, at least not for a few years. If I concentrate hard enough, though, I swear I can hear the sounds of waves crashing against the shore or the taste of icy-cold rosé, and escape my sweat-soaked sheets, room-temperature coffee, and two-day-old pajamas for a second.
Read A Damn Book
As a mom, reading for fun is something that I seriously miss. So, if I can't fall asleep, I often grab a book, or my phone, and read something for fun.
Argue With People On The Internet
Sometimes, when I lie awake at night and am unable to sleep, I remember the thing I should have said in the online debate I was in earlier. So, I grab my phone and have my say while my opponents are sleeping. Score.
Hang Out With Online Friends
One of my favorite parts of being awake at 2:00 a.m. is chatting with my mom-friends who live all over the world. Even if all of my American friends are sleeping, I can hang with my online village if I get lonely in the middle of the night.
When I was trying to boost my breast milk supply, my lactation consultant recommended power-pumping — which is basically pumping for 10 minutes, followed by a 10 minute break, and repeating the same schedule for an hour. For me, I got the most out of my pumping sessions at 4:30 a.m. when everyone else, including my baby, was asleep.
Postpartum sex can be almost as elusive as sleep, my friends. So, if we both happen to be awake and horny, my partner and I have late-night or early-morning sex. And if they aren't awake, and you want an orgasm, you can always masturbate.
According to Women's Health, one in six women reports sleeping better after sex. And Saralyn Mark, M.D., tells Women's Healthy that sex boosts the production of oxytocin and decreases the production of cortisol. "These hormone changes leave your body in a relaxed state, making it easier for you to fall asleep," the site says. So, when in doubt, sex it out! (Consensually, of course.)
Get Medical Help
For me, medical treatment was the key to getting some sleep. I wish I had gone in sooner, actually. Getting treatment for my PPD helped considerably, too. Then, once my partner and I figured out how to sleep in shifts so each of us could get a block of adequate sleep, I was able to start taking a sleep aid, too. While you should always consult a medical provider before starting a medication, I've found medical intervention to be so worth it, you guys.
Get Your Body Back, If Only For A Minute
As a new mom, it can be damn near impossible to feel like yourself again, or like your body belongs to you. So, when you get a chance, take a moment to disengage with everyone around you and spend some time by yourself. No breastfeeding. No bottle-feeding. No hugging. No snuggles. No cuddling. No diaper changing. No touching another human being. Trust me. When you're constantly being touched by a small human, it can be difficult to feel like your body is inherently yours. So take a break and find some time to get back to center.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.