Struggling with lack of sleep
Many new mothers share with me their struggles with the effects of lack of sleep. It got me to thinking about my experience with my children and the symptoms and struggles I had as a result of lack of sleep….
It was the middle of the night. I felt like I was the only person awake, I felt alone, overwhelmed, exhausted, in fact beyond exhausted. I was sitting in a chair in my baby’s room rocking him after another feed, he was 5 weeks old and I felt 100 years old.
I had always been a person who loved sleep. Not only did I love sleep but I was good at it. I would hop into bed, my head would hit the pillow, and I would drift off to sleep. I would wake up in the morning 8-9 hours later feeling refreshed. I would hear people talk about not being able to sleep or being awake in the night and it was a foreign concept to me.
Towards the end of my pregnancy nature must have been trying to prepare me for what was coming as I had severe heartburn and as a result I was sleeping upright, propped up on four pillows still with minimal relief. Add to that the all night pregnancy toilet trips to left me with very little sleep.
Once I started my maternity leave I had occasional naps during the day which definitely helped and I felt like I was coping okay. Then my first baby came along. The lack of sleep began after delivery. I struggled to sleep in hospital, during the day or the night. After five days in hospital my husband and I arrived home with our first son. I cried all the way home from the hospital and was totally overwhelmed at my new reality. This baby’s life was in my hands. I was responsible for making sure he was fed, had sleep and had comfort. I remember my husband saying “it’s okay we are in this together” and I remember looking at him thinking no we are not, I feel the full weight of responsibility here.
And while feeling all these new overwhelming feelings I was also getting little sleep. In hindsight it was probably as much sleep as anyone could expect with a newborn but it was a new feeling for me. My baby wasn’t particular unsettled or particular hungry but he was a newborn learning the ways of his new world. And I was a new mother learning the ways of my new world.
Everyone said to me “sleep when he sleeps” but my amazing sleeping habits had disappeared, I lay down during the day trying to relax and drift off to sleep. Instead I listened for any sound of the baby, or any sign that the dogs would bark and wake him up, or any warning a visitor was about to arrive. Peacefulness and sleep had left the building.
At mothers group everyone seemed to be going really well, and loving their new adventure so I didn’t say much, feeling guilt and shame that I was not on the blissful path of motherhood. I now wish I had reached out to someone as I now know what I felt was very normal. I also then realized that a major contributing factor to the way I was feeling was the lack of sleep I was getting and the exhaustion I felt. I thought “can lack of sleep cause me to feel depressed?”
Becoming a new mother is overwhelming and of course beautiful and amazing. But the overwhelming part can be made worse by the lack of sleep and sense of loneliness that new mothers can feel and the sense they are experiencing the wrong feelings. I think mothers often ponder ‘what is the effect of lack of sleep” and even at times feel like “can I die from lack of sleep”. The sleep deprivation experienced by new mothers is often an alien feeling as most of us new mums have never experienced broken sleep or sometimes minimal sleep.
I am very grateful that at that time a good friend urged me to engage in some professional counselling. Sometimes it is difficult to talk to our friends and family about our feelings and that’s when the option of consulting with a professional can be very helpful. Sometimes just having your feelings normalized and someone listening can make a huge difference to your experience.