It's perhaps the cruelest of new-mom ironies: you're permanently exhausted, but when that sweet little angel finally goes to sleep, you can't. Maybe you're anxious about your baby or you're obsessing about schedules. Whatever it is, you're lying there in bed and no matter how hard you try (and perhaps because you're trying too hard), you can't manage the one thing that would make you feel better. If you're a new mom struggling to sleep, don't lose hope — there are more than a few things you can try.
I've always needed more sleep than the average bear (I'm a grade A hibernator). I knew that having a newborn would change all that, but I didn't expect that when I actually had the opportunity to sleep I would find it to be such a challenge. I've been managing obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) for most of my life, so I'm not a stranger to racing thoughts, but they had never disturbed my sleep to such a degree. Even though I was physically and emotionally tired, I couldn't stop thinking about whether my daughter was getting enough milk or writing thank-you notes in my head. I eventually achieved sleep with the help of a mindfulness coach and some much-needed relaxation techniques, but I still have trouble from time to time.
Postnatal insomnia is no joke. When you're a new mom, you have to be really careful. According to Michigan Health, sleep deprivation is associated with numerous health concerns, not the least of which is postpartum depression. The following are definitely worth a try, but if you don't get any relief, don't hesitate to seek professional help for your sleep problems.
When you're a new mom, there's always something to do. I'm willing to bet there's baby laundry to fold or dishes to wash. Whether you're bottle-feeding or nursing, there's always something that needs to be sanitized. Hell, you could even write in the damn baby book because I know you haven't had time to touch that thing.
I say this with a caveat, though. Only get up and do something if crossing it off your list is going to eliminate the guilt you're feeling and allow you to sleep. If it's going to work you into a cleaning frenzy, don't do it.
Write It Down
Instead of going over and over your shopping list or visitor schedule in your head, try writing it down. Sometimes the simple act of putting something in writing can free you from that particular worry and allow your mind to rest.
I suggest keeping a notepad and pen on your bedside table. My problem is that I keep my calendar and reminders on my phone. I may have every intention of only adding an event or memo, but it's so easy for me see that Facebook or Twitter notification and get sucked into the social media rabbit hole.
What? Like, an actual book? Yes, and preferably one that's not about newborn sleep or breastfeeding. That's not going to relax you. You're awake anyway, and the newest 1,000-page Outlander novel isn't going to read itself (and maybe the British evacuation of Philadelphia will be enough to put you to sleep).
Like many people, I have a Kindle app on my tablet that I typically use when reading for pleasure. However, when trying to fall asleep, I've found that it's better to read a "real" book, and research supports that. According to the National Sleep Foundation, light from our electronic devices promotes wakefulness.
Black It Out
It's all about circadian rhythms, y'all. Artificial light can confuse our brain's understanding of the day-night cycle. That blue light emitted your cell phone, tablet, or computer actually suppresses melatonin, the sleepy-time hormone. If you don't want to disrupt your internal body clock, turn that crap off.
If you're using a baby monitor, I suggest turning off the video component. You'll still be able to hear your baby. If that makes you too nervous, try a sleep mask instead.
Listen To A Soundscape
White noise: it's not just for newborns. We know that white noise machines are basically magic for babies because they mimics womb sounds like mama's heartbeat and the shushing of blood flow. You may find that a babbling brook or crashing waves are just as soothing. Hey, it's worth a try.
I'm not the best at employing mindfulness techniques on my own (I get too distracted), so I recommend a meditation app, such as Stop, Breathe, & Think. You can choose from a variety of mindfulness exercises from counting breaths to body scans to engaging your senses). There are even sessions specifically designed to help you fall asleep. #Winning
Try A Sleep Aid
You may want to try an herbal remedy first. The Baby Sleep Site suggests scents like lavender or jasmine, and foods such as honey and chamomile tea, to promote sleep. Vitamin supplements, including magnesium and iron, may also be helpful.
If none of that is working, you can turn to a short-term, non-addictive sleep medication. Of course, consult with your doctor before taking any medication, especially if you are breastfeeding.
Just Lie There
OK, I realize how stupid that sounds, but hear me out. When is the last time you got to lie down? I'm guessing it's been all day. Anyone who's fed a baby (whether from breast or bottle) knows it's not a vacation, even if you are sitting down.
It helps me to know that even if I'm not sleeping, I'm still resting my body. And sometimes, taking the pressure off of falling asleep (the never-ending self-talk of "If I fall asleep now, I can still get four hours") is just what I need to drift off to dreamland.
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.