Insomnia came as a shock to me after I had my first baby.

When you’re a new parent, you’re dead tired.  So that must mean you collapse into bed and fall straight to sleep, right?  Not exactly, I discovered.

The more I talk to other new parents, the more I realize that falling asleep is a challenge that affects a surprising number of us sleep-deprived folk.

It all began the very first night I was in the hospital after giving birth to my first.  I definitely didn’t sleep a wink and had been awake for a ridiculous number of hours.  That part didn’t surprise me so much, though, given the excitement, adrenaline, overwhelming joy, and sheer terror of keeping a new human being alive.  I didn’t exactly expect to sleep much in the hospital.

What surprised me was my inability to fall back to sleep in the middle of the night, weeks later, when I’d been sleep-deprived for months.  I just couldn’t fathom why I couldn’t fall back to sleep, given the intensely exhausted state of my body.

There were nights – particularly after I returned to work – when I would lay in bed sobbing, after waking up for a feeding and then trying to fall back to sleep for 45 minutes…an hour…two hours.  What kept running through my head were things like, “okay, so I’ve slept for exactly 2 hours and 12 minutes tonight.  If I don’t fall asleep within the next half hour, I won’t even get another full hour, before he wakes up again.  How on earth will I survive at work?  Has lack of sleep every actually killed anyone?”

In retrospect (still tired 6 years later, but nowhere near as crazed), it makes much more sense to me why insomnia set in for me during those middle-of-the-night wakings.  My hormones were all over the place.  I was breastfeeding and STARVING.  So I’d eat something in the middle of the night.  That something probably had some sugar in it (e.g., a Nutrigrain bar, peanut butter).  And, most significantly, my sleep cycle was so ridiculously off, that my body had absolutely no clue what it should be doing at any particular time of day or night.  With a routine that out of whack, it is no wonder I couldn’t fall back to sleep.

This issue recently came up in my Mindful Return Alumnae Community, and the mamas there had some great suggestions I wish I had tried back when I was a new parent.  Here are some strategies that have worked for me and for them.

5 Strategies for Combatting New Parent Middle-of-the-Night Insomnia

  1. Listen to a Meditation: The soothing sound of someone else’s voice, guiding you to relax, can work wonders.  Buddify and Insight Timer are two apps that have a ton of great guided meditations you can use.
  2. Do a Breathing Exercise: Focusing on your breathing can help lead you toward sleep.  For example, say “one” and take a very deep breath in and out.  Then go to “two.”  Keep going until you get to 10, and then start back at one.  And if you get distracted, just start back over with one.  Doing a body scan, where you start at your toes and focus on feeling each part of your body all the way up to your head can help, too.  If I go slowly enough, I’m usually asleep by the time I get to my thighs.
  3. Do Some Yoga Poses: I’ve gone to YouTube and typed in “yoga for sleep” in the past, and found a bunch of relaxing yoga sequences that can be super relaxing.  “Legs up the wall” is a great pose for insomnia. Also check out some of these other poses that are known to be good for getting to sleep.  Getting out some of those sitting-in-a-chair-feeding-baby kinks just feels SO good in the body, too.
  4. Use Reverse Psychology: I once had someone suggest that I should repeat to myself “you absolutely are NOT permitted to fall asleep now!” And I’ve been surprised at how well that can work.  Taking your mind off sleeping by reading a book or doing some other quiet activity can have the desired effect, too.
  5. Grab a Pen and Paper: When your mind is spinning, sometimes it’s helpful to write down what’s bothering you.  Or to do a big brain dump list-making session of all the things you need to get done.  Put a journal next to your bed, and use it to take all that worry out of your brain to free it up for sleep.

And if all else fails and you need a good cry, it can sometimes help just to let all that frustration out.

Hang in there, mama, and may you soon find your own middle-of-the-night zzzzz’s.

Have any tips for falling back to sleep after night time baby wakings?  Share them here in comments!

Looking for more help with the return to work after maternity leave?  Join the next session of Mindful Return.  It’s a 4-week curriculum and peer-support group all wrapped up in one.

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