Insomnia is a common problem for pregnant women, especially during their third trimester. Some studies estimate roughly three-quarters of women experience insomnia symptoms during the later stages of their pregnancy. These symptoms include difficulty with both falling and remaining asleep, as well as nighttime awakenings. Unfortunately, these sleep disturbances often continue after the woman has given birth, and some sleep even less during the first few postpartum weeks than they do during pregnancy.
Postpartum sleep issues may also stem from changes to the mother’s sleep schedule. The first six weeks after delivery can be particularly trying. Studies have found the average new mother receives about six hours of sleep each night during this period.
Insomnia is a sleep disorder that is believed to affect 10-30% of adults. It is defined as persistent difficulty with sleep onset, maintenance, consolidation, or quality. Insomnia occurs despite enough time allotted for sleep each night or a comfortable sleep area, and it leads to excessive daytime sleepiness and other impairments when the person is awake.
If these symptoms occur at least three times per week and persist for at least three months, a person may receive a diagnosis of chronic insomnia. The condition is known as short-term insomnia if less than 3 months duration.
Sleep disruption, inadequate sleep, and insomnia symptoms are all common during pregnancy. Most mothers also face new sleep challenges after giving birth. Newborns wake up frequently and require feedings throughout the day and night. These demands often force mothers to adjust their sleep schedules and, in many cases, sleep less at night.
Additionally, women undergo hormonal changes during the postpartum period. These include a decrease in the production of progesterone, a female sex hormone with sleep-inducing properties, and changes in levels of melatonin, which the body produces in the evening to promote sleepiness and relaxation. These adjustments can affect the woman’s circadian rhythm, which regulates not only sleep but also mood, appetite, and other bodily functions.
Postpartum depression, or perinatal depression, can be another obstacle to sleep. This disorder affecting new mothers can cause extreme sadness, anxiety, and fatigue. Approximately one in eight pregnant women will experience postpartum depression. Difficulty falling asleep and excessive sleeping are two common symptoms of this condition. Insomnia may be a catalyst or a symptom of postpartum depression. One study found new mothers who sleep poorly are more than three times as likely to experience depression than those with good sleep quality.
Postpartum sleep disturbances can be a serious matter. They not only have a negative effect on the mother but also potentially their infant and partner. Researchers have suggested a link between a mother’s behavioral health and the psychosocial development of their child. Furthermore, studies have shown women who experience chronic insomnia after giving birth are at higher risk of developing postpartum pain.
While measures for treating insomnia depend on a person’s health and medical history, people may experience a reduction of symptoms through cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I). This type of therapy, which is normally offered by a licensed health care professional, involves identifying problematic or inaccurate thoughts and beliefs about sleep and replacing them with healthier attitudes. Specific components of cognitive-behavioral therapy may include:
New mothers should always speak to a doctor before taking prescription or over-the-counter sleep medications or anti-depressants and inquire about concerns for their own health and their infant’s.
Beyond insomnia treatment methods, new mothers who have trouble sleeping can try one of the following techniques for getting some added shuteye while caring for a newborn.
If you notice sleep issues after giving birth, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor or another licensed physician. Minor sleep struggles can snowball into more serious problems.
You may want to seek help or schedule a visit with your doctor if one or more of the following occurs:
The Office on Women’s Health – a subdivision of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – maintains a helpline for women experiencing postpartum depression and other mental health disorders. This number can be reached at 1-800-994-9662 between 9 am and 6 pm Eastern Standard Time, Monday to Friday.