Postpartum depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and psychosis; the childbirth classes introduced me to all of those terms and then I expanded my knowledge when I started attending a postpartum support group.
But not once did anyone warn me of this one: Postpartum insomnia.
That’s probably because it’s no secret that all new parents lose sleep. We are up countless times in the night, rocking and feeding our babies back to sleep. That’s just what comes with the territory. That’s not postpartum insomnia.
What I’m talking about is an unbelievable curse. It’s when your baby is sleeping through the night, but you are not. You spend all of the infant period dreaming of the day when you both will sleep all night long. What a crushing blow when that happens for your child, but not for you!
You’ve earned the right to sleep, haven’t you?!
Postpartum insomnia (also referred to as postnatal insomnia) is said to affect about 15% of mothers and is caused not only by frequent sleep interruptions, but also by those dang fluctuating hormones. While it is often linked to postpartum depression, it can appear on its own without depression or anxiety symptoms.
My daughter was never a good sleeper. By the time she turned 7-months-old, it was considered a great night if she was only up 4 times. I had the kind of child who woke up every 45 minutes most nights. I was so tired that I had to quit my job. After a couple of rounds of sleep training, it finally worked when she was around 11-months-old. She started sleeping through the night; but, after 11 months of countless wakeups, is it any surprise that while she finally learned how to sleep thoroughly, I no longer knew how to?
My body had gotten used to never falling into a deep sleep to being ready to attend to the baby at any moment. The issue wasn’t even that my mind was racing, I just couldn’t get over the wall to an unconscious state!
When I would actually fall asleep, I would regularly wake up in a panic that the baby was somewhere in the bed, causing me to fiercely shove my husband a few times, thinking he was crushing her. Or, I’d think she was wandering around our room (miraculously having climbed out of her crib) and was about to get hurt. I’d wake up and find myself on the floor, frantically reaching my arms out to get her. Those scenarios, however, were during the rare nights when I would actually fall asleep.
Most nights, I lay there awake, tossing and turning, taking breaks to try a new location or to read a bit, and then, sometimes, only getting an hour of sleep.
Unfortunately, my story hasn’t quite reached its happy ending and it’s been nearly a year since my daughter started sleeping through the night. I was unprepared for this struggle and have had a heck of a time finding a solution. I cut out sugar after dinner, limited caffeine and alcohol, drank sleepy teas, meditated, and took melatonin.
Then, I started pills. Tylenol PMs at first, which felt like a miracle; however, my doctor told me that that wasn’t a fabulous habit to be forming, and put me on insomnia medication. I wasn’t lying awake anymore (as much), but I was still waking up a dozen times per night. We went back to the drawing board and tried a new cocktail of nighttime meds about a month ago. I’m ecstatic to say that this formula seems to be working.
You think sleep training a baby is hard? Try sleep training an adult!
I’m not wild about taking pills, but that is the only thing that has worked for me. I share my experience to not only bring awareness to postpartum insomnia, but to also bring awareness that sometimes natural remedies are not enough. Now, I am a huge advocate for natural remedies, trust me, and it’s pretty common and easy-to-find knowledge on how to naturally sleep better, but it took me far too long to admit that I needed something more to get back on the healthy track as soon as possible. I hope to be able to decrease my medications and retrain myself how to relax naturally; but, for now, meds are the way and if that’s the case for you, accept it!
Extended sleep deprivation can take you to some dark places and we only have so much control over ourselves sometimes.
I hope that my case is one of the more extreme ones out there. My daughter is turning two and I’m still fighting this battle. Therefore, I’m no expert on how to deal with it, but I am pretty great at empathizing. If you are experiencing true postpartum insomnia, stop trying to fight it with sheer will power. By all means, try natural approaches with herbal remedies, meditation, nighttime and “wind-down” routines, and melatonin. But, if that’s not enough, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor.
You need to take care of yourself in order to take care of others. Don’t take sleep deprivation any less seriously than other illnesses. Push on, don’t give up, and try everything you can.