When you become a mother, a palpable shift occurs inside and around you. No, it’s not this overwhelming, innate need to protect your new, tiny potato sack of a human (though that certainly exists for many of us), nor is it an almost superhuman awareness of the potential dangers that linger all around us (wow, death is everywhere suddenly, how neat). The specific change we’re talking about in this case is the intense fixation on your newborn’s sleep schedule.
Whether it’s how often they’re sleeping, how long they’re sleeping, the number of naps they’re taking in a 24-hour period, or how you’re able to even get them to sleep, suddenly your baby’s state of consciousness inhabits a large majority of your mental real estate at any given time. And we get plenty of reminders to think about our baby’s sleep from other people, by way of constant advice: sleep when the baby sleeps, never wake a sleeping baby, etc. We get it. Baby’s sleep is important and daunting and terribly fraught for a lot of new parents.
In all of this talk about baby sleep, what too often gets excluded is arguably the more important sleeper in the family: you. What about your sleep?
A reported one in four Americans will develop insomnia every year. But if the jokes about how little sleep moms get are any indication, becoming a mother means you’re likely to seriously struggle to acquire an adequate amount of sleep each night at best, and suffer through bouts of extreme insomnia at worse. A National Sleep Foundation poll found that 74% of stay-at-home moms experience insomnia-like symptoms. And since there is a direct link between the amount of sleep a person gets to their physical and mental health state, it is far from surprising that studies have shown that a lack of sleep is a contributing factor to the onset of postpartum depression, anxiety, and a slew of other mental and physical health issues.
Like any other situation, what works to aid one person’s fight against insomnia may not move the needle for someone else. The following suggestions — provided to HeyMama by 20 working- and stay-at-home moms — are just that: suggestions. If you believe you’re suffering from insomnia or are just having a hell no of a time trying to go the f*ck to sleep every night, consult a healthcare professional to figure out a plan that works best for you.
Here’s how the following moms managed to get some shut eye when they needed it most:
“A sleep mask that doesn’t touch your eyes! It’s a game-changer. I picked mine up at TJ Maxx for $5 and the quality of my sleep is a night and day difference. Also, it looks like a tiny little bra, which is hilarious.” – Jamie Kenney
“Anti-anxiety medications! Seriously. (But also unisom works really well, earplugs, and white noise while [the] baby is with dad.) [After having my] last baby I developed pretty bad postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety, and this time I am trying medication which, so far, seems to be helping. Also, consistent counseling. I know others sharing their stories helped me take the plunge into medications to help myself, and I’d like to do the same.” – Nicole Swenson
“Trazodone is great and the only thing that works for me. I take as little as I can to sleep, but it works. After years of trying melatonin, reading, Advil PM, weed… I finally went for the real shit.” – Megan Wilson Tufano
“Sleepy Time Tea addict. I find the whole process of brewing the tea to sipping it in bed with a good book (assuming the baby is sleeping) is a great way to unplug and relax for the night. I add a bit of honey to make it extra special.” – Gena
“Sleepy Time Tea, guided meditation on my echo, lavender oil and melatonin. And trying to do deep breathing and shutting those damn racing thoughts out of my head.” – Nicole
“From a mental health therapist perspective, what [Nicole] said. Those are the go-to things that I work with people one. Also, working on sleep hygiene, such as turning electronics off one hour before bed, magnesium supplements, keeping the bed for only sleep and intimacy, cool temperatures, etc. For myself, I do a lot of the stuff [Nicole] said, as well as counting backward from 100 by three (or whatever number that makes you have to think), which will distract your brain from all the intrusive thoughts.” – Liz
“I’m in the Unisom camp. I also like guided meditation and listening to audiobooks to drift off to sleep. I find that listening to someone reading helps me focus my thoughts — less on my own racing mind and more onto a story with a beginning, middle, and end.” – Kelsey
“Weed. It became legal [where I live], so I smoke it instead of [taking] all the pharmaceuticals.” – Alexandra
“I’ll usually take Xanax. Works every time.” – Bonnie
“Listening to an Audible. I typically have three in my library that I listen to for three different reasons: a new one, one I’ve heard before, and one for [my son]. The one I’ve heard before is typically what I put on to fall asleep, since I have heard it before. There are nights I’m too tired to read to [my son], so right now we’re listening to Harry Potter!” – Katie
“Essential oil blend rolled on the soles of my feet, or CBD drops taken orally.” – Haleigh
“Unisom! I usually don’t have a problem falling asleep, but I always wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to bed. Unisom usually works for me, and I don’t feel tired in the morning. I never had this issue until giving birth… now it’s all the time.” – Amanda
“Blue-light blocking glasses in the evening while on electronic devices.” – Bridgett
“I recently started using CBD and it helps me sleep so much better. Also, I try to stay off my phone in bed and just read. Reading always helps me fall asleep.” – Kelsey
“Extra strength Sleepy Time Tea and a hot shower.” – Heather
“Valerian Root, Mageniums, earplugs (my husband snores), and pitch dark.” – Greer
“My kids’ chewable melatonin. Or Benadryl!” – Jessica
“Valerian root, also known as ‘God’s Valium.’ Works wonders on turning your mom, anxious brain off.” – Shauna
“Calm Magnesium. Works every time.” – Lillian
“Professionally, I can preface this by saying there are a lot of causes for insomnia, some of which absolutely will not be treated by CBT-I or certain prescription or nonprescription medications. CBT-I is one tool in the tool box, but as with everything else, has to be used appropriately.
There are both prescription and nonprescription programs. One prescription app is called Somryst. The app I prever is called CBT-I Coach. It was developed by the VA for veterans with PTSD but can be utilized for free by anyone with insomnia who wants to take this approach. The reason I like CBT is that it has the best evidence for treating many types of insomnia in the long run, plus it isn’t a medication (many medication use for sleep can result in physiologic or psychological dependence).
The reason that I personally like utilizing CBT-I is that it actually teaches me skills to target insomnia, which prevents me from becoming anxious about even having insomnia (a vicious cycle!). It isn’t just about sleep hygiene, or the ‘rules’ for successful sleep… though that’s a piece of it. It isn’t a quick fix, and it’s hard work, but it has been helpful.
We know that thoughts and behaviors can contribute to the vicious cycle of insomnia, especially as a mother, when we already have enough to worry about. I don’t need insomnia being on that list, too.” – Lisa