Our guest author, Jennifer Wider, M.D., is a nationally renowned women’s health expert, author, and radio host, and has appeared on The Today Show, CBS News, Good Day NY, and Fox News, among others. Dr. Wider is a medical advisor to Cosmopolitan magazine and hosts a weekly radio segment on Sirius Satellite/XM Radio. She is the author of three books, including most recently, The New Mom’s Survival Guide.
If you’re asking why you aren’t sleeping, it might reassure you to know that you are not alone. Sleep problems are a lifetime struggle for many women and they tend to peak at certain times of life. Studies reveal that women report sleeping problems most often during periods of hormonal fluctuation: at certain points on the menstrual cycle, and during pregnancy and menopause.
Almost eight in 10 women experience more sleep disturbances during pregnancy than at other times during their lives. Hormonal changes, heartburn, an expanding belly, and difficulty breathing and getting comfortable all play a role in sleep disorders related to pregnancy.
But the problems often don’t end there. Many women are surprised to learn that after they have the baby, it doesn’t necessarily mean their bodies will automatically go back to their normal sleep patterns. Hormone levels continue to fluctuate after delivery and as a result, sleeping problems may persist for some women.
When Sleep Becomes A Problem
While it’s true that all new moms struggle with getting a good night sleep — it comes with the territory — that’s not really what we’re talking about here. If you regularly experience difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep and these difficulties occur regardless of the baby’s sleep patterns, you may have a problem. Many experts agree that an official diagnosis of insomnia would be given to women who experienced difficulty sleeping on a consistent basis for at least four weeks.
Postpartum sleeping problems can get in the way of your daily functioning, impair your motor coordination and thought processes, and add stress and anxiety to the long list of new mom concerns. So don’t ignore these problems!
The good news is that there’s a lot you can do about it. While prescription drugs may sometimes be necessary, if the problem goes on for too long, there are many other behavioral and lifestyle changes that should be tried before resorting to medication.
Here are some tips that may help you repair your sleep cycle:
Avoid the late-in-the-day caffeine fix: Cut back on caffeinated beverages at least five to six hours before you plan on hitting the sack. Consuming caffeinated coffee, tea, or soft drinks late in the day can really do a number on your ability to fall asleep at night.
If you are experiencing serious bouts of disrupted sleep, try to make up for the lost sleep with naps. Women who are waking every three hours to breastfeed or soothe the baby can get caught in a bad cycle that becomes a pattern they feel they can’t escape. If you’re enough long stretches of sleep to sustain you during the day, carve out some nap time to catch up so as to minimize the toll exacted by sleep deprivation.
Keep to a regular schedule. Our bodies crave routine, so try to go to sleep at the same time every night.
Avoid doing chores around the house or last minute items before bedtime—this will only add aggravation to your day and get the adrenaline racing to your mind and your body.
Create a calming night-time routine. I used to drink a cup of chamomile tea and watch a Sex in the City rerun before going to bed. It was my little half-hour, short but relaxing enough to help me drift off to sleep (most of the time!).
Avoid watching the clock. How many times have you looked at the clock every five minutes, stressing that you can’t fall asleep? This is the worst thing you can do. The anxiety about not falling asleep only makes it harder to fall asleep. If you aren’t asleep in thirty to forty minutes, get up out of bed and do something else. Read a book, watch a sitcom, take a warm bath, whatever it takes to change your frame of mind and help you relax. You can try again a little later.
If you find that lifestyle changes don’t help and you are tossing and turning consistently for weeks on end, therapy and medication may be an option. Sleeping medication is usually prescribed for a short period of time and should always be monitored by a physician, especially if you are breastfeeding. If you are suffering from depression, anti-depressant medication may be a better option, but again, speak to your physician.