Insomnia is a common problem for pregnant women, especially during the third trimester. Some studies estimate that about three-quarters of women1 experience symptoms of insomnia during the later stages of pregnancy. These symptoms include difficulty both falling asleep and staying asleep, as well as nocturnal awakenings. Unfortunately, these sleep disturbances often continue after a woman has given birth, and some sleep even less during the first few weeks after delivery than during pregnancy.
Postpartum sleep problems can also result from changes in the mother’s sleep schedule. The first six weeks after giving birth can be particularly challenging. Studies have found that the new mother can sleep about six hours each night during this period.
What causes postpartum insomnia?
Insomnia is a sleep disorder believed to affect 10-30% of adults. The condition is known as short-term insomnia if the duration is less than 3 months. Sleep disturbances, inadequate sleep, and insomnia symptoms are all common during pregnancy. Most mothers also face new sleep-related difficulties after giving birth. Newborns wake up frequently and need to feed during the day and night. These demands often force mothers to adjust their sleep schedules and, in many cases, sleep less at night.
Additionally, women undergo hormonal changes during the postpartum period. These include decreased production of progesterone, a female hormone with sleep-inducing properties, and changes in melatonin levels, which the body produces in the evening to promote sleepiness and relaxation.
Postpartum depression can be another obstacle to sleep. This disorder that affects new mothers can cause extreme sadness, anxiety and fatigue. About one in eight pregnant women will experience postpartum depression. Difficulty falling asleep and excessive sleep are two common symptoms of this condition. Insomnia can be a catalyst or symptom of postpartum depression. One study found that new mothers who sleep poorly are three times more likely to suffer from depression than those with good sleep quality.
Postpartum sleep disturbances can be serious. They not only have a negative effect on the mother, but potentially also on their baby and partner. Researchers have suggested a link between a mother’s behavioral health and their child’s psychosocial development. Additionally, studies have shown that women who suffer from chronic insomnia after childbirth are at an increased risk of developing postpartum pain.
- Sleep when your baby sleeps: try to rest when your baby is asleep. You may be tempted to use this time to clean or tidy up your home, but sometimes rest is more important.
- Go to bed firstIf you can’t sleep when you go to bed, do something relaxing half an hour earlier, like soaking in a warm bath.
- Make a little for one: if you have a partner, ask them to help you. If the baby is using formula, they might give it to him. If you are breastfeeding, ask your partner to help you with diapers.
- Ask friends and family for extra support: You could ask a relative or friend to come and take care of your baby while you take a nap. If you are alone, you might see if a friend or relative could stay with you for a few days so you can sleep more.
- Understand your baby’s sleep patterns: The stage where your baby wakes up multiple times during the night won’t last forever. As babies grow, they sleep for longer periods.
- Try exercising more: When you feel tired, exercising more may be the last thing you feel like doing. But exercise can help you feel less tired. Walking is one of the simplest forms of exercise. Try to go out for a walk with your baby every day.
- Try relaxation exercises: Even 5-10 minutes of deep relaxation can help you cool down.
- Be aware of the signs of postnatal depressionIf you can’t sleep at night even when your baby is asleep or feel tired all the time, these could be signs of postnatal depression. Other signs include feeling down or hopeless and not enjoying the things you normally enjoy. If you think you are depressed, talk to your doctor as soon as possible so you can get the help you need to recover quickly.
- Sleep educationBy learning more about how sleep works and what we can do to get more rest each night, people with insomnia and other sleep disorders can approach their difficulties from a more informed perspective. Keeping a sleep diary promotes awareness of sleep patterns.
- Sleep hygiene: The term sleep hygiene refers to practices that improve sleep, such as following a daytime routine that promotes rest at night and maintaining a comfortable and healthy sleep environment. Bedroom temperature and light levels, caffeine and alcohol intake, meal times and exercise all play a role in sleep hygiene.
Article Sources: NHS, Salute.gov