Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Dealing Realistically with Postpartum Sleep Deprivation Part 2.

In our last post, we shared information about why young babies need to wake at night. Of course, if your baby is awake, that means that you are awake too (yes, research studies have actually been done to tell us that). Rather than being frustrated and stressed trying to find ways to get your young baby to sleep longer, we want to encourage you to look at the problem differently and look for ways to cope with having to wake up so much. Since adults’ sleep cycles (including both dreaming and non-dreaming sleep) are about 90 minutes long, new parents have reported feeling more rested when they are able to get 90-minute blocks of uninterrupted sleep several times per day. Focusing on getting these “chunks” of rest may make those first few weeks a little easier. Even if the baby is not cooperating and still feeding every two hours, parents can take turns and trusted friends and family can help make sure the baby is cared for between feedings. So "sleep when the baby sleeps" really is great advice. Right? Well, ok, we know it isn't always that simple.

Barriers to Sleep

Here's some more research that won't surprise you: many parents don’t “sleep while the baby sleeps” even if they try. Parents have a hard time finding time to sleep, falling asleep, returning to sleep, and staying asleep even though they are exhausted. If you are dealing with any of the following problems, you may be wondering what you can do to get more sleep.  

Hormone Shifts

Hormone shifts in the first days and weeks after delivery can leave moms feeling hot, cold, exhausted, wired, and moody 24-hours a day. These hormone shifts typically last only a short time and you should start to feel better and be more able to rest after the first couple of weeks. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.


First-time moms are more likely than experienced moms to suffer from sleep disturbances (including difficulty in falling and staying asleep) because of higher stress levels. First-time moms are more likely to be nervous and unsure about baby care. New dads worry too. You might find yourself wide awake wondering if you're a good parent. You might even stay awake worrying about getting enough sleep! Talk to your experienced friends and get tips to build your confidence, read this blog, share your concerns with your doctor, partner, and supportive friends and family. When you talk about your feelings, you might find a new perspective and learn that many parents feel the same way.You may find that it helps to follow a short routine and listen to soft music every time that you lay down to rest so those worrisome thoughts don't get a chance to get going. 

Other Responsibilities

Another common reason that parents said they couldn't get to sleep (when they had the chance) was that they worried about keeping up with household chores and other responsibilities. Some parents reported that they didn't even try to sleep because they were too busy with visitors and housecleaning. I know it is easy for someone like me to say “just let the chores go.” There can be many reasons why that can be very hard to do. But if you can’t let things go, you are going to need some help. You may feel that you should be able to handle it all but that's just not realistic; we are not meant to raise our children alone. Remember that whole “it takes a village” thing? It’s true. We have some posts to help you arrange to get some help when you need it. If you are ok with letting things go (and we hope that you are), just make sure the chores get done that are directly related to safety (you don’t want to trip and fall or give yourself food poisoning).

Believe us, we know what it is like to be in that early postpartum fog. We hope that these tips help you to get through it. Remember, more sleep is just a few weeks or months away.

1. McQueen A, Mander R. Tiredness and fatigue in the postnatal period. J Adv Nurs 2003; 42: 463-469.
2. Coo Calcagni S, Bei B, Milgrom J, Trinder J. The relationship between sleep and mood in first-time and experienced mothers. Behav Sleep Med. 2012; 10:167-79
3. Insana SP, Montgomery-Downs HE. Sleep and sleepiness among first-time postpartum parents: A field- and laboratory-based multimethod assessment. Dev Psychobiol. 2012 May 2. doi: 10.1002/dev.21040.
4. Hunter LP, Rychnovsky JD, Yount SM. A selective review of maternal sleep characteristics in the postpartum period. J Obstet Gynecol Neonatal Nurs. 2009;38(1):60-8.

1 comment:

  1. As a mum of ten week old twin girls (although they were 9 weeks premature so correct age is only one week!) I can add that it is difficult to sleep when the babies sleep as although they sleep at the same times at night during the day one is awake between feeds in the morning and one in the afternoon, so during the day there is always one awake!