Waking up ever 2-3 hours all night to feed a crying baby is the norm for new parents. New moms’ sleep deprivation is not only from the demands of their infants, but research has also implicated the dramatic drop in hormone levels after delivery with disruption in sleep cycles.
No one feels good or functions optimally without adequate sleep, but the implications for women who are at an increased risk of developing a postpartum mood and anxiety disorder are even more profound: research has consistently shown that sleep deprivation increases the risk of postpartum depression. Women who have bipolar disorder are also at increased risk of becoming manic in the setting of sleep deprivation.
This can become a nasty cycle because once a woman is depressed, her sleep often becomes more fractured and difficult, which leads to worsening of depressive symptoms. One study from 2008 found that babies whose moms have postpartum depression slept had more fractured sleep cycles, and woke up more often throughout the night. This same study noted that women with postpartum depression had longer sleep latency (time to fall asleep), more wake time after initial sleep onset, and thus poorer sleep efficiency and quality as compared to their non-depressed counterparts.
What’s a mom to do to given the obligation to care for her new baby and the undeniable and inescapable hormone shifts that occur postpartum? Prioritize sleep! How, you might ask? There are several ways:
- key is not to take on the night with a newborn alone: enlist the help and support of others to allow for at least 4, and ideally 6 straight hours of sleep a night.
- Make a plan for the night shifts in advance of your baby’s arrival.
- Try to nap during the day when baby naps – it may be tempting to use the time for emails, laundry or to make a photo album, but remember the importance of getting some shut-eye.
Other sleep tips for new moms include:
- keeping a consistent sleep/wake cycle by keeping lights low at night during feedings, and on during the day as much as possible.
- Take a walk with your baby each morning to improve circadian rhythms for you and your baby.
- If you find you have difficulty falling asleep even if the baby is either asleep or being cared for by a loved one, try meditation and breathing exercises to relax.
- Be sure to let your family and your medical provider know of any sleep difficulties; persistent sleep problems are a frequent indication of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders, and may require more formal treatment.
Prioritizing sleep is imperative during the postpartum period to decrease the risk of onset or worsening of mood symptoms. With proper planning, taking appropriate steps for good sleep hygiene, and enlisting help from others, you can decrease the risk of a postpartum depression in the weeks and months after delivery.