Causes, Treatment, & When to Seek Assistance

It is not unusual to miss sleep in the postpartum period if insomnia was a part of your pregnancy experience. However, sleepless nights — particularly if they happen in a series — can be detrimental to your mental or physical health.

The following is an extract from the Office on Women’s HealthInsomnia is a common sleep disorder that can affect your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. It can also cause you to feel tired after sleeping. If the symptoms last for 3 nights or more per week, and is not resolved within 3 months, it can be diagnosed.

Postpartum insomnia can cause disruptions in daily life and a decrease in overall health. It can also be linked to other conditions such as mental or physical disorders, so it is important to keep an eye on it and seek treatment if it doesn’t improve.

Peter G. Polos MD, PhD is a sleep medicine specialist and expert on Sleep Number. Insomnia is a sleep disorder that causes difficulty in falling asleep or staying asleep and affects the quality of one’s sleep.

Research It is not uncommon for women to experience perinatal or postpartum sleeplessness. This population has a much higher percentage of insomnia than the general population of women in childbearing years.

Polos also says that difficulties with sleeping often occur before the birth of the baby and may persist after the birth.

During pregnancy, your body experiences many changes. You might be surprised at how much your body changes during your fourth trimester, also known as the 12 weeks following birth.

One of the most common problems after giving birth is sleep disturbances. These issues can resolve themselves in weeks for some. For others, postpartum insomnia may last for months.

Acute insomnia can be caused by physical and health changes. These include:

  • Stressors are increasing
  • Caring for a newborn infant
  • changes in hormone levels
  • New or existing mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, that have not been previously diagnosed.

There may also be hormonal reasons, in addition to mental health issues like perinatal depression.

Lynae Brayboy MD, FACOG is an OB-GYN and reproductive endocrinologist. She is also the chief medical officer for Clue’s menstrual tracking app Clue. Lynae says that medical conditions like postpartum thyroiditis may affect sleep.

She says that postpartum thyroiditis affects approximately 10% of women. However, it is often not diagnosed because symptoms can overlap with other postpartum symptoms.

Brayboy states that postpartum thyroiditis refers to the inflammation and autoimmune destruction the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland, a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the neck, makes thyroid hormone. This hormone sets the metabolism or how the body processes energy.

She explains that the first stage of postpartum thyrotoxicosis is when there is too many thyroid hormones in the bloodstream. This can lead to symptoms like a fast heart beat, anxiety, fatigue, and insomnia.

Brayboy advises that you seek out a specialist in women’s health, in partnership with an OB/GYN, if you are experiencing signs and symptoms of postpartum insomnia.

She says that depending on the reason for your insomnia, the treatment you receive will differ, but she advises against self-medicating.

Review infant sleep patterns

It is important to examine infant sleeping and eating habits as a first step in dealing with postpartum insomnia. After bringing a baby home, it is common to get uninterrupted sleep for several weeks.

Talking openly with your partner, doctor, or pediatrician about your concerns will help you set realistic expectations. This will help you to understand your sleep patterns, and identify signs early indicators of insomnia.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

According to a 2020 Review According to medical literature, cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), a treatment for postpartum sleeplessness, is effective. This short intervention focuses on the root causes of your insomnia. This brief intervention teaches you how to manage your insomnia, including relaxation, coping and stress management.

In a 2022 controlled trial, CBT and light-dark therapy (LDT), were combined to treat postpartum sleeplessness. The trial results showed that both therapist-assisted and LDT were effective in reducing postpartum insomnia symptoms.

Lifestyle modifications

Good sleep hygiene starts with lifestyle modifications such as avoiding caffeine and heavy meals before bedtime, and keeping screens out the bedroom.

According to Polos, people should first change the environment that is affecting their sleep. Polos warns that this might not always be possible with newborns.

It’s possible that you won’t have the ability to maintain a consistent sleep schedule or get in the recommended 7 to 8 hours sleep per night. He suggests that you take advantage of naps. Sleep when your baby sleeps.

Polos suggests that you get out of bed and go into another room if you are finally able to fall asleep.

He says, “It can help train you brain that your bed should be used for sleeping.”

Prescription and over-the-counter medication

Melatonin can be taken as an OTC supplement to aid in sleep. Although it may promote sleep, Polos points to the fact that melatonin does not work as a sleeping aid and is not controlled by the Food and Drug Administration.

Polos recommends that you consult a sleep specialist. These specialists can offer guidance regarding dosage, timing, as well as any follow-ups. He warns that there is not enough data to evaluate breastfeeding and melatonin use.

For short- and long term insomnia, prescription medications such as antidepressants or sedatives are available. OTC sleep aids that include antihistamines are also available. Both of these have their risks.

Talk to your doctor about side effects or complications from sleeping medication. Also, make sure you are safe while breastfeeding.

If there is one thing that a newborn baby can teach you, it is patience.

There is no single answer for how long postpartum insomnia lasts. It is like most health-related issues. Each person’s experience will be different.

The following is an extract from the Office on Women’s HealthShort-term insomnia can last for a few days. Chronic insomnia can last for up to 3 months.

Polos states that postpartum insomnia can be caused by many factors. Take, for example:

  • Your newborn’s sleeping schedule starts to stabilize
  • Your hormone levels start to return to baseline
  • The lifestyle changes required to have a baby start to take shape

Polos suggests that you talk to an expert if your insomnia persists.

It is vital to sleep at all stages of your life.

Brayboy explains that women who aren’t getting enough sleep during the postpartum period have higher levels of inflammatory chemicals, cytokines, and stress hormone cortisol. This makes their immune system vulnerable and their overall health vulnerable.

In addition, sleep deprivation can lead to worsening of mental, behavioral, and physical health.

A 2016 study found that postpartum sleeplessness may increase the risk of developing postpartum depression. Brayboy suggests that you seek medical attention if you are experiencing trouble sleeping or a relative is suffering from insomnia after pregnancy.

Experts recommend that you seek help for insomnia if there is an inability to fall asleep, wake up too early, or feel tired for more than three nights per week. This is especially important if the problem persists after your baby has started sleeping better.

Talk to your doctor if you feel that your child’s sleep is affecting your health. You can have a physical exam, discuss your sleep habits, stress levels and current medications.

Other exams and blood tests may be ordered by your doctor. A sleep study may also be recommended to rule out any other medical conditions.

After giving birth, it is normal to feel tired and have trouble sleeping. If these symptoms persist for more than 3 months, or if you are experiencing severe insomnia, you should consult your doctor.

If left untreated, postpartum insomnia may lead to other problems. To help you sleep, your doctor might recommend lifestyle changes, OTC or prescription medication, and CBT.

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