“Sleep when the baby sleeps!”

All expecting and new moms and dads know this piece of parental common sense, often handed down by loved ones who’ve already dealt with being new-mom (or dad) tired. But it’s not always as easy to sleep when the baby sleeps as this advice makes it sound. You may find that when baby goes down for a nap or throughout the night you just can’t seem to fall asleep too. Newborns sleep between 14 and 17 hours a day1—so why can’t you get some shuteye?

Are you experiencing typical postpartum sleep deprivation, or have you developed postpartum insomnia—and what’s the difference?

Postpartum Insomnia Vs. Sleep Deprivation

There’s a small—but critical—difference between postpartum insomnia and the sleep deprivation most parents experience. New parents and parents of older babies who experience sleep deprivation are typically able to fall asleep quickly and easily whenever they get the chance; parents experiencing postpartum insomnia cannot—even if they’re exhausted.2

Maybe falling asleep isn’t the problem but staying asleep is. If staying in a deep, restful sleep seems impossible, even when baby is sleeping, this is also a way postpartum insomnia effects parents.1

Occasional insomnia—before, during, or after pregnancy—is normal. But if the inability to fall asleep and stay asleep first popped up after baby was born—or has become more persistent since bringing baby home—they may be linked.3

Postpartum Insomnia Causes

Unfortunately, there have been few studies addressing postpartum insomnia and its causes,4 but it might be related at least in part to these triggers:2

  1. Feeling overwhelmed with daily tasks
  2. Feeling overstimulated by new experiences with baby
  3. Worrying about baby and/or the future

Recognizing patterns of behavior and thoughts that may be contributing to your postpartum insomnia may help you find some relief. Consider keeping a sleep journal to gain an overview of your experience; include sleep and wake times, thoughts you have before and after sleep, worries that occur to you when you can’t sleep—anything you think might be relevant to uncovering your triggers or seeking treatment with your doctor if your sleep doesn’t improve.

Postpartum Sleep Deprivation & Insomnia Tips

There are several tips for getting better sleep that may help both postpartum insomnia and sleep deprivation sufferers. While having a set sleep schedule and a baby seem incongruent, look for opportunities to set and stick to a sleep routine with baby while you try to find relief from your postpartum sleep deprivation. Consider trying a combination of them to make restful sleep easier to find:

  • Put down the phone. Or turn off the computer and TV. Avoiding tech for a few hours before you expect to go to sleep will prevent further disruption to your sleep cycle.5
  • Keep your bedroom dark. While you avoid bright screens before bed, remember to keep the bedroom as dark as possible. Keep unneeded lights off, make the bedroom a screen-free zone, and, if necessary, consider investing in blackout draperies to cover your windows and help you get to sleep or stay asleep during daylight hours.
  • Go for a walk. Get some fresh air and sunlight to help realign your circadian rhythm.
  • Avoid caffeine. Sure, you likely want an extra jolt during the day if you’re especially tired, but this won’t help you get to sleep. Try cutting back long before it’s time for bed.
  • Try relaxation techniques. Deep breathing, meditation, and more relaxation techniques can be employed while you’re in bed winding down.
  • Stop trying so hard. Sleep doesn’t always come when we’d like it to. But staying in bed anxious for sleep to come won’t help. Get up and do something else relaxing.

If after one or two weeks of trying the tips above do not help you get better sleep or sleep more often, consult your physician about postpartum insomnia treatment.2 Your doctor will be able to determine what kind of treatment is appropriate for you and monitor for other health concerns, including postpartum depression—which may be related to postpartum insomnia.6