Postpartum Insomnia: Why it’s Happening and What you Can do About it

Postpartum Insomnia: Why it’s Happening and What you Can do About it

Aug 04 , 2021

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Megan McDonough

Sleeping a full eight hours starts to get tricky around the third trimester of pregnancy. A growing belly means not sleeping in your normal position; then there’s all those extra trips to the bathroom. While blissful nights are definitely in your future, your insomnia might last a bit longer than you anticipated. 

We’re rounding up some of the common reasons why insomnia is so common among pregnant and postpartum moms, and a few things you can do to rebalance your circadian rhythm.

A few reasons why you might have trouble sleeping

The truth is, there are so many factors that contribute to sleep insomnia and it might take some trial and error to find the root cause. Here are a few common culprits: 

Hormonal changes

Your body is undergoing so much change and there’s going to be an adjustment period. There’s a lot that happens on a hormonal level during pregnancy and after giving birth. First, after the delivery of the placenta, moms have a quick (and significant) drop in both progesterone and estrogen levels. Plus, prolactin secretion goes up and down with lactation. 

Melatonin release, which is super important when it comes to regulating sleep, is also altered. There are a few reasons for this, one being that feeding your little one every few hours disrupts your own sleep schedule. For example, turning on the light during a nightly feeding can confuse your own system and make it difficult to fall back asleep. 

Try taking some melatonin gummies before bedtime, and when it comes to light, yellow light is less intense than white light and may make it easier to fall back asleep between feedings. 

Iron deficiency

We know you’re doing all that you can to feed your baby, but don’t forget about yourself! Iron deficiency is very common in women, and especially in new moms. Contributing to iron deficiency are blood loss that happens during delivery, thyroid dysfunction and infections such as endometritis, UTIs or mastitis.

Being a new mom requires a lot of energy (remember, breastfeeding can burn up to 500 calories a day), so it’s easy to pass off an iron deficiency with plain old fatigue. If you think you might be iron deficient, consult with your doctor. They may recommend you consume more foods rich in iron—dark leafy greens like spinach, red meat, seafood, peas—or to take iron supplements. 

Magnesium deficiency

Being magnesium deficient—and most people are, without even knowing it—can really mess with your sleep. Magnesium works to ease your body and mind into relax mode. According to an article on Mimc, “it does so by binding to various neurotransmitters and their receptors in the brain, including the inhibitory GABA receptors that signal neural networks to reduce their activity. It also regulates melatonin, that pivotal hormone in your sleep-wake cycles.”

Here are a few magnesium-rich foods to incorporate into your diet: spinach, quinoa, nuts, black beans, tofu, sesame seeds, whole wheat and edamame. 

Disrupted circadian rhythm

In addition to the hormones mentioned above, cortisol and thyroid are also mediated through circadian secretion. Pre-baby, you might have noticed that you got tired around the same time each evening and woke up around a certain time in the morning. As a new mom, getting a full night’s sleep isn’t so simple. Daytime naps and nightly feedings can definitely throw off your circadian rhythm. 

Anxiety or depression

Adjusting to your new role as “mom” can be challenging in and of itself, and paired with insomnia, any person would crack. This is especially common in the first weeks and months after giving birth.

Remember, about 13-percent of women who have just given birth experience a mental health disorder, as recorded by the World Health Organization. Symptoms run the gamut, from feelings of sadness and exhaustion, to feeling overwhelmed, worthless, out of control and irritable. This can manifest in the body in the form of aches, pains and illnesses. 

Tips and tools to combat postpartum insomnia 

Aside from laying off that extra cup of coffee, there are several ways to combat insomnia. From creating a sleep sanctuary to finding a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) therapist, here are our favorite resources: 

Create a sleep sanctuary 

If you’ve ever worked from bed (raises hand), you might have noticed yourself getting sleepy or working at a slower, more relaxed pace. This is because our brains associate our bedrooms, in particular our beds, with sleep. When experiencing insomnia, we can use this association to enhance our sleep habits. 

Set up your bedroom to look and feel like a sleep sanctuary. This might look like keeping the lights dim or even using scented candles to help relax your mind. Consider setting up a pre-sleep routine that you will practice every night. For example, try going to bed at roughly the same time each night and establishing bedtime rituals (just like you do for your baby). Easier said than done, we know. However, this can help reset your circadian rhythm and offer consistency to your night. 

Whatever your bedtime routine looks like, remember to turn off your electronics or keep them out of view. The blue light from your phone stimulates your brain and messes with your circadian control centers, making it even harder to fall asleep. The same for social media; resist that urge to scroll! 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I)

There are several forms of therapy that can help with insomnia, and we’ll start with the most traditional approach. CBT-I is a great option if you’re feeling anxious and overwhelmed. This method teaches you how to better manage the symptoms, while also getting to the root cause. 

Alternative healing techniques

There are so many techniques out there, from hypnosis and yoga Nidra to deep breathing techniques. One breathing technique that is actually used in the military is the 4-7-8 breath developed by Dr. Andrew Weil and based on pranayama. There are slight variations to this breathing pattern but the main goal is to have your exhale be longer than your inhale. After about two minutes of this, your nervous system recalibrates and you feel calmer.

Essential oils and CBD

Along with adding scented candles to your sleep sanctuary, you can experiment with essential oils such as lavender, or CBD.

***

Prioritizing sleep for both you and your baby really helps. There’s a difference between sleep and rest and both are important. For example, if your baby is awake, it’s tough to rest. A baby that naps is a well rested baby, and a well-rested baby is a happy baby. It might sound counterintuitive, but a baby who naps usually goes to bed easier, which means you’ll get some shut-eye, too. 

Lilu is a Women’s Health company building tech-enabled devices to empower new moms. Our first product, the Lilu Massage Bra, mimics compression massage, so you can empty your breasts fully to establish, increase and maintain your milk supply. Pump up to 50% more milk each session, all while going hands-free.

Lilu Massage Bra with flanges

Lilu Massage Bra


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