Lost sleep and postpartum sleep support

Woman with baby stroller walks in the park

What should I know about sleep?

Feel like you may never get a decent night’s sleep again? We hear you.

Sleep is the body’s way of restoring itself both physically and mentally. It takes roughly 90-110 minutes for our bodies to cycle through the 5 phases of sleep, which then repeat all night long. In order to wake feeling rested and energized, it is important to make it through these cycles uninterrupted.

But both the physical demands of pregnancy (those nightly trips to the bathroom or a tiny foot pushing into your rib cage, for example) and the fact that a newborn’s circadian rhythm doesn’t even begin to regulate until 7 weeks, means that it is nearly impossible to get the uninterrupted sleep you need to be completely rested and restored during the end stages of pregnancy and after giving birth.

Lack of sleep during this period can have negative impacts both physically and mentally. If you feel physically ill, are falling asleep without meaning to, or feel like you’re in a fog or are emotionally raw, sleep debt may be taking its toll. You’re in a uniquely demanding time of life, but resting your physical body, feeding and hydrating yourself exceptionally well, and finding other ways to combat exhaustion can help.

What to Do

Become a nap person

If you have the opportunity to nap while your baby is sleeping or while someone else is caring for your baby, do it. Naps can’t “make up” for the sleep lost at night, but they can certainly bring down sleep pressure and give you the boost you need to make it through the day, both mentally and physically.

Don’t feel guilty about catching a catnap. While the pile up of “to do’s” can be extreme at this phase of life, none of them are as important as your wellbeing and your ability to use good judgment, so sleep (including naps) needs to top the list.

Just remember, taking naps that are too long or too late in the day can sabotage your ability to fall asleep at bedtime and stay asleep in the night, so plan accordingly.

Remember to eat and drink

Eating well and staying hydrated is key to feeling better during periods of less than optimal sleep.

Many new moms report they are so busy with the demands of motherhood that they forget to eat and drink, or they make poor food choices given new constraints on their time and attention.

So keep a water bottle near you at all times (especially while breastfeeding). Simple whole foods truly can make a meal, so keep things easy. Reach for raw nuts, whole fruits and berries, hardboiled eggs, or cut up vegetables dipped in hummus.

When you do cook, make extra for the week ahead or freeze in portions for future use. Make a big pot of quinoa, a big pot of beans, or a big batch of vegetable soup. Then add fresh ingredients like roasted chicken from your local grocery store to jazz up the leftovers.

Get outside

Take your baby for walks outside in the sunlight. Both the vitamin D from the sun and exercise can help reduce that sapped feeling from lack of sleep.

Take a bath or leisurely shower before bed

Warm water can help relax the body to drop into sleep faster and deeper. If you take a bath, consider using aromatherapy or Epsom salts (but if you’re fewer than six weeks postpartum, double check with your healthcare provider).

Other advantages of taking baths in the first 6 weeks postpartum – they can soothe episiotomy repairs, tears, and hemorrhoids in addition to relaxing muscles. Just make sure your tub is nice and clean before you fill it, each and every time.

Practice deep breathing

If sleep is just not possible, relaxing for a few minutes with your eyes closed can help. Sit quietly for 5 minutes and take deep breaths. Focus not on how exhausted you are, but rather on quieting your body and mind for a few minutes.

Try this technique between feedings or while on a lunch break at work.

Seek out a support network

Feeling exhausted and isolated is a double whammy for a new mom’s psyche. So prioritize finding a posse of other new moms who may be experiencing the same things you are.

This might be tricky, especially if you’re more naturally introverted. But if you can muster up the energy to build a mommy network, it will be so worth it.

Look for new mom support groups through your hospital or your city’s recreation department. Many neighborhoods also have forums where you can connect with other parents.

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