There's insomnia. And then there's "momsomnia." I think you know what I'm talking about. It's that special kind of sleep disorder moms get that comes from routinely being awakened by a baby, then a toddler, then a preschooler, then for crying out loud even your 10-year-old -- does it never end?!? And when that's not happening, you're lying awake reviewing your giant to-do list and worrying about everything from grades to buying new shoes again.
You're having trouble sleeping because your life is extremely challenging. But you need plenty of sleep to handle your extremely challenging life. What's a mom to do?
We talked with Dr. Ronald Kotler, medical director of the Pennsylvania Hospital Sleep Disorders Center and author of 365 Ways to Get a Good Night's Sleep, for tips on dealing with insomnia.
Dr. Kotler sees the roots of moms' insomnia in how we're evolutionarily wired. Many women become light sleepers right after they have a baby. This helps us stay alert to our newborn's needs, even through the night. As many of us know, during those first few months we're in a state of constant vigilance (more so than most fathers are). And that's great for a newborn's survival. But we definitely want to grow out of that once the baby is sleeping through the night (which Kotler says should be happening around 6 months).
Here's what Dr. Kotler recommends if you find yourself struggling to sleep past that newborn phase.
1. Work with a pediatrician. First things first: If it's your baby who is still keeping you up all night, work with a doctor to help your child develop good sleep habits. That will help both of you.
2. Make sure your room is comfortable for sleeping. That means it's the right temperature, is quiet, is dark, and has a bed with a supportive mattress. Make any adjustments you need -- don't just "make do." And avoid alcohol right before bed, too much caffeine throughout the day (which can stay in your system for up to 12 hours!), and tobacco.
3. Be aware of any signs of mood disorders. Your insomnia could be a symptom of a more serious mental illness or disorder. So familiarize yourself with the signs of depression and signs of anxiety. Get help immediately if you think you're suffering from either.
4. See a specialist in cognitive behavioral therapy. This could be a psychiatrist or a social worker. Dr. Kotler says cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be especially helpful for dealing with insomnia. It's an approach that helps you change the way you interpret the events in your life. You can't necessarily change the things that stress you out, but you can change how you respond to them. CBT gives you the tools to recognize when you're worrying excessively so you can sleep at night.
CBT can also help correct the condition where you start associating your bedroom with poor sleep, which it a terrible aspect of insomnia.
5. Pillow talk helps. And of course, it helps if you have a partner you can lean on. Dr. Kotler says sometime even a little pillow talk at night right before you go to sleep can help alleviate some of the stress that keeps us up late at night.
Your sleep is important, moms. It's not a luxury. Our lives demand it. So if you're having trouble sleeping, that that problem seriously and do what you have to in order to fight off insomnia.
Do you still have trouble sleeping at night even though your kids are older?