Sleep deprivation is often an uncontrollable side effect of pregnancy and having a baby. Unfortunately, we live in a culture where getting by on minimal sleep is something we take pride in. It’s a competition- who can survive on less sleep and still go to work, run their home, be a perfect wife and mother, and look amazing at the same time?!
The Effects of Sleep Deprivation
The problem with this mindset is that it overlooks a very important fact: sleep deprivation is no joke and is nothing to be proud of. Poor sleep is associated with a whole slew of awful side effects including decreased cognitive function, poor coping skills, moodiness, irritability, poor attention and decision-making, obesity, and diabetes, and depression.
Sleep and Postpartum Depression- What the Research Says
Scientists at Ohio State University found that a mother experiencing severe sleep deprivation for more than two weeks after her baby’s birth has a much higher risk of developing postpartum depression. These findings were backed up by a study conducted at Case Western University, which found that mothers of twins and triplets had decreased sleep and triple the risk for postpartum depression in comparison to mothers of full-term single infants. To make matters worse, further studies show that “postpartum women with depressive symptoms experience poorer sleep quality, less total sleep time, longer sleep latency (longer time to fall asleep), less time in REM sleep, and more sleep disturbance than women without depressive symptoms” (http://womensmentalhealth.org/posts/postpartum-depression-and-poor-sleep-quality-occur-together/). This vicious and scary cycle of sleep deprivation and postpartum depression often continues for many mothers without an end in sight.
Sleep Treatment: A Vital Piece of the Solution
Simply advising pregnant and postpartum women to “get more sleep” usually doesn’t help to rectify the problem. It is essential that new moms and moms-to-be are empowered with the knowledge and know-how on employing healthy sleep habits for themselves and for their baby.
Sleep problems for postpartum women often begin during pregnancy and continue after for long periods after giving birth. Here is a list of steps that pregnant and postpartum women can take to improve the quality and quantity of their sleep:
Keep your room very dark.
If you need to get up to use the bathroom at night, use a small night light just enough for you to see where you are going. Install blackout blinds in your room.
Keep a journal and pen handy by your bedside.
If you wake up and can’t fall back to sleep, journaling is a very relaxing activity.
Make sure you have downtime on a daily basis.
Some examples of this include nature walks, yoga, journaling, reading, baths, massage, etc.
Implement a consistent early bedtime
as close to 10pm as possible. By 10pm, the body begins to repair itself, so staying awake much longer can slow this process.
Implement a relaxing bedtime routine to help you wind down.
Eliminate ALL screen time at least one hour before going to sleep as part of this routine.
Make your bedroom a sanctuary for relaxation and sleep. Try not to work, watch television, or engage in any non-relaxing activity. Ensure the room temperature is between 19 and 22 degrees Celsius.
Use a sleeping aid like sleep pillows or a mattress topper for your comfort.
Eat only light meals before bed and familiarize yourself with anti-sleep and pro-sleep foods. This will help you avoid sleep disruption and encourage deep sleep.
Take the baby outside. When the baby is born, new mothers should try to take the baby outside for a walk every morning to expose the baby to natural light. This will help set the baby’s circadian rhythm (its wake/sleep biological clock) so that he learns the difference between night and day.
Establish healthy age-appropriate sleep habits for your babies and children. When a baby or child in the family isn’t sleeping, the family unit suffers. Prioritizing sleep for your children not only teaches them about the importance of sleep but it allows you to get the sleep your body needs.