Every new mother expects to experience sleep deprivation, its apart of the course of entering the world of parenthood, whether its night feeds, Colic or a baby who just won’t settle unless they are in your arms. Sprinkle this recipe with heighten anxiety (is the baby breathing, he hasn’t moved in a while) and you can guarantee you will be running on limited fumes and can pretty much guarantee that your nights of 8 hours straight are going for the foreseeable future.
However there is an extreme to entering new parenthood, that many will dismiss as sleep deprivation and that is New Mum Insomnia! Yes you read that right!
Quite often your find your body will adjust quickly to a new schedule, so long after the two hourly feeds have finished, you may find you are still waking even though baby is asleep and that it proves difficult to drift back off.
I was an insomnia suffer pre pregnancy, however experienced the best sleep of my life whilst I carried little man. I wasn’t delusional enough to think that would continue after he arrived, but I had hoped that between the exhaustion and never-ending cycle of mum duties, I would find, I simply fall into bed when the opportunity arose.
Firstly as baby grows that opportunity shrinks, secondly, if new mum insomnia kicks in you can kiss goodbye to snatching 20 mins when it still does!
Everyone’s asleep apart from me
Why as probably the most tired person in this household at this moment, am I the only one still awake…. even the dog is asleep!
The exhaustion I feel as a new mum is overwhelming at times; “mummy fog” is often how many describe it and I would say that could be pretty accurate. Walking around not really present in the moment but going through the motions.
As I sit now, sipping a warm cup of coffee, it is 6.30am the sun is barely up and the world is completely peaceful. This is my me time, this is my moment before the craziness of the day begins. Little man is still snoozing(doesn’t always happen!). Husband is well away and the world around me in general is still sleepy, and only just beginning to rub the dust from its eyes.
Last night was an interesting one in our house. The little man went down as normal at 7pm and slept sweetly all evening, my husband on a rare night off wanted us to have some quality “us” time, so we prepared dinner together, sat ate it whilst enjoying some adult conversation (although mainly focused around the little man!) and relaxed with a glass of wine. However there I was at 10pm, baby asleep, dog asleep and husband dropping z’s on the sofa and yet I was wide awake!! Oh how I longed to be were they where, but no matter how hard I tried I just wasn’t sleepy!
My day had pretty much gone something like this:
2am – Baby wakes and won’t settle
3am – Crawl back into bed exhausted
3.30am – Check the clock to see how long I have stared at the ceiling
4.30am – Rouse myself from the heavy slumber I slipped into only moments ago and stumble into baby’s room to comfort him
4.45am – Back into my nice warm bed and spend half hour debating whether I should just get up now and get an extra start on the day. Did I have a coffee last night?
6am – Here chuckling and cooing through the baby monitor and realise that my day has officially started as little man is wide awake.
6am -9am – Give little man some milk, whilst rocking in the chair, wishing he’d go back down for just 1 more hour, play with him, give him is breakfast, drink 3 cups of coffee and start signalling to the little man that he is sleepy and surely it is nap time soon!
9.30am – Little man quickly drifts off peacefully, Husband is still asleep, collapse on the sofa and close my eyes. Open my eyes, check my phone, look at emails, Facebook, whilst thinking about the possibility of sleep.
10am – Start answering emails and put kettle on, realise 4 cups of coffee may get me through the day but will not help me get any sleep!
10.30am – Clear up the living room so it no longer looks like a war zone, put all little man’s toys into the box and then wonder why I wasted my time as he will be up again in half hour
11am – Bang on schedule, hear chattering through the baby monitor go up to investigate
11.30am – little man is on the living room floor with toys spread out around him, I debate whether it might be time to get dressed. Husband now up so leave little man in his charge and go shower and dress
12.30pm – Feed the little man his lunch, think about what we should eat for lunch and start planning my exit to the office for the afternoon
1.30pm – Having wolfed down own lunch, head back upstairs to put little man down for his afternoon nap.
1.35pm – start gathering my stuff to leave for the office, spend 20 minutes talking to my husband in gibberish as he looks at me clueless
2.15pm – Pump so that there is a bottle for little man whilst I am working this afternoon, keep checking watch as I am impatient and worried I will be late.
2.45pm – Arrive at office to a mountain of requests, emails (even though I have answered them all day long) and general to do list that never goes down
3pm -7pm – Make coffee and contemplate if I can manage to keep my eyes open long enough to look at the computer screen, begin hammering through as much of my workload as I can in the hope I can sleep with the baby this evening. Realise that isn’t going to happen and quietly sob to myself
7pm – Leave office and arrive home, help finish up bath time and tea time (which should have happened an hour ago) give little man lots of hugs, start singing silly bedtime songs and settle on the rocker in his room to feed him his night-time milk. Place little man sleepy in his cot and lie down on the floor next to him. Realise I am falling asleep but little man is not! Stand up and hold his hand over the top of cot until arm goes numb and he is finally closing his eyes. Take ten minutes to disengage my finger from baby’s grasp and back slowly out of the room.
8pm – Husband begins dinner as didn’t want to start until he knew little man was down. Help husband, whilst trying to have business conversation on phone and reply to emails.
9pm – Still down for dinner, leave phone in other room and enjoy some quality adult time and a glass of wine, which instantly makes me want to sleep.
9.45pm – Retire to living room and attempt to watch an episode of Orange is the New Black. See dog blissfully asleep and wish I was her, look at husband to say something and see he is also in land of slumber. Think about going to bed but realise I am wired. Sit and binge watch OITNB until I finally feel it suicide not to attempt sleep.
12am – Wake husband tell him to go to bed. Check on little man holding breath and with all fingers crossed that he remains asleep as I creep into his room.
12.30am – Finally fall into bed and hope sleep with arrive
1.30am – Still hoping
2am – Get up and see to baby
So after going through a similar cycle every week day, when the weekend comes, my husband kindly takes little man from me first thing to offer me the opportunity to catch a few hours extra sleep. Problem is it only compounds the situation. I then lie there thinking about all the things I should/could be doing if I had gotten up with him at the normal time, that leads me to thinking about all the items I need to add to my never-ending to do list. Followed by attempting to problem solve some of the more difficult issues I haven’t been able to tackle, which generally leads on to work problems, life problems, worries and major anxiety. Before I know it that 2 hours peacefully time I could have used to catch some z’s has been completely wasted and I have to face the day whether I am ready or not.
Having a baby takes a lot of your mental capacity, remember to do things, making sure things are right. You can’t forget things and just make do when there is a baby involved. Can you imagine running out of nappies and saying “ah well I forgot to get them on the way home but that’s ok it can wait till the weekend!!”
So how do you cope when mum insomnia strikes?
Firstly the age-old saying “sleep when baby sleeps” is true, not always possible but if you are fortunately enough to, down tools, forget housework or working out and get some sleep. The rest will still be there when you are feeling better and neither will be productive if you are walking around like an extra out of the walking dead. If that’s not possible, look at your bedtime. My little man goes down at 7pm, slightly to early for me, but if I know I am running of fumes I will organise my day and my meals so that I can hit the sack at 9pm at the latest. Even if he wakes late evening, I will still have gotten a few hours head start.
If finding the time is not the problem but actually sleeping is, then forget medication. Especially if you are breastfeeding instead I recommend adding a yoga session into your daily routine and perhaps meditation. A quick 5 minute mindful meditation or wind down yoga flow that is 10 minutes is all you need, it doesn’t need to be a massive session. Focus on releasing the tension and practising emptying your head.
Emptying your head is easier said than done at times, try keeping a notepad and pen handy on your bedside table, instead of whizzing from one thought to the next jot them down and get them out, you can always go back to your list later during the day when you want to revisit what you need to do.
Anxiety tends to come hand in hand with sleeplessness as a new mum and whilst it is always recommended you speak to a professional, practising some if not all the above should also help you to conquer some of those fears that might be causing you to stay awake. If nothing seems to make an impact then reach out to Anxiety UK who will be able to guide you in a recommended course of treatment or therapy.
Whatever you try if you find something that works for you stick with it. Recently my husband has taken to doing the early morning wake up and he extends this to include playing with, dressing and feeding baby his breakfast before putting him down for his morning nap, buying me another 2 sometimes 3 hours when I can attempt to catch up on sleep. It was fantastic, and whilst only temporary it was enough to get me back firing on all cylinders and able to cope once more when sleep is not an option.