Pregnancy and Postpartum Sleep
Who’s getting it? Who isn’t? How often are you getting it? Where are you getting it?
Not sex. Sleep. It’s a hot topic among moms-to-be and new moms alike. And no wonder. Studies have shown that 92% of women in their third trimester report sleeping restlessly (Douglas 2012). The National Institute of Health shows that new moms clock lots of sleep hours – an average of 7.2 per night – but that sleep is full of interruptions and inefficient (Montgomery-Downs 2012).
For moms-to-be, perhaps the best way to manage sleep is to develop healthy sleep practices:
- Stick to a regular sleep schedule: Try to go to bed at the same time every night, regardless of whether it’s a weekday or weekend, and get up at the same time. Create a routine that helps you wind down. Take a quick shower. Read a few pages from a book. Do some stretches or yoga. The key is to repeat your bedtime ritual, signalling to your body that it needs to get ready for sleep.
- Create a sleep environment: Create an environment conducive to sleep. Make your room comfortable, dark, and cool.
- Ask for help: Ask your partner or trusted friend for help taking care of baby while you sleep. If you are breastfeeding, this support person can bring baby to you to nurse. You can also pump before going to sleep, and the support person can bottle feed the baby while you rest.
- Exercise regularly: Studies have shown that regular physical activity helps people fall asleep faster and deepens their sleep. Aim for at least thirty minutes, but don’t skip exercise entirely just because you can’t commit that much time. Think of exercise broadly: go for a bike ride, take a hike, walk the dog, chase a toddler. The possibilities are endless.
- Avoid caffeine within six hours of bedtime: Caffine is a stimulant that restores alertness. Passing on the cup of coffee in the afternoon may be easy (for some!), but caffeine can hide in unlikely places: chocolate, soda, energy water, and some pain relievers.
- Get out in the afternoon: For most people, energy tends to wane in the afternoon hours. Plan something mentally or physically active during that time – go for a walk, do a crossword puzzle, get groceries. Anything to keep your body and mind moving.
For the postpartum mom, decreasing the amount of interruptions is crucial to turning the sleep you are getting into quality sleep. It’s unrealistic to think that you can remove all interruptions, but there are ways to mitigate them.
- Arrange for five hours’ uninterrupted sleep: Ask your partner, family member, or close friend to take care of baby for five hours during the night so that your body will be able to complete a sleep cycle, which is key to feeling rested.
- Remove the interruptions you can: Turn off cell phones, TVs, and radios. Although some people find falling asleep with the TV on helpful, the background noise disrupts the quality of your sleep.
- Find your path to relaxation: Many new moms, especially those suffering from postpartum depression, find themselves too anxious to sleep. Anxiety can make falling asleep difficult in the first place and make staying in deep sleep even more difficult. Find a path to relaxation. Some people find that writing down the things they are worried about helpful, while others learn deep breathing or meditation techniques. Trust in your partner’s parenting abilities. You don’t need to wake up for every whimper from baby; your partner is adept at taking care of things, too. And taking care of yourself is as important as caring for baby.
It’s important to note that studies conducted by the National Institute of Health found no differences in the sleep between women who were breastfeeding, formula feeding, or using a combination of the two. Contrary to the talk at the playgroup, choosing to formula feed does not equate to improved sleep.
Douglas, Ann. “Sleep Deprivation in Pregnant Women.” 14 September 2012.
Montgomery-Downs, Hawley. “Postpartum Sleep Deprivation and Fragmentation: Effects on Maternal Functioning.” 14 September 2012.