An exhausted-looking woman with insomnia lies on a couch while in the background, a baby's nursery emits a speech bubble full of the heads of crying stuffed animals

Insomnia and Newborns: Useless Advice and Helpful Tips

I have long passed the stage of life involving newborn babies and young children. I am in the grandparent stage now. Despite my age, I remember all the useless advice I was given as a new mother. If you have or are expecting a baby and have insomnia, listen up.

Your sleep schedule is probably going to be more erratic, but that does not necessarily mean you will be getting less sleep. Having insomnia does mean that much of the advice you will receive about how to get enough sleep is useless.

Sleeping when the baby sleeps is rarely an option

One of the most absurd pieces of advice I ever received is something that everyone eventually hears from some well-meaning friend or relative. Someone will tell you to sleep when the baby sleeps. Of course, if we could sleep on command insomnia would not be a problem. At all. Have you had someone offer to watch the baby while you sleep? No matter how exhausted you are, you may suddenly find yourself wide awake.

When the opportunity for sleep arises, you may not be able to sleep at all. Of course, if you have insomnia you are likely used to this. The more I stressed over not being able to sleep when my children napped, the worse my insomnia was. My worries only made things worse. The minute my baby went to sleep, I was wide awake because I was too focused on trying to sleep.

By the time I had my third child, I did not bother with trying to nap. I found that I often yawned while trying to get things done, and that was when I was able to nap. Do not try to schedule or force sleep. It will only make things worse.

A possible advantage of having long-term insomnia

If you have insomnia, odds are you are used to functioning on less sleep. This may be an advantage for a new mom. We do not have to adjust to getting far less sleep like the mothers who got a full 8 hours before their babies were born. In fact, you may still get just as much sleep as you did before giving birth.

Anyone who has had insomnia for a while is able to get through the day on far less sleep. This makes it easier to take care of a newborn. You are accustomed to taking care of everything you need to do without a full night’s rest. This is extremely helpful when you are caring for a new baby. Everything is a big adjustment, but you may not feel like you are missing much sleep. being able to function on less sleep can be a big advantage.

Exhaustion caused by losing even more sleep

Of course, you may experience quite the opposite of this. You could be one of the unlucky people who get far, far less than the few hours you normally get each night. I have had both experiences, so it is not the same every time. It is more of a coin toss. Even though the exhaustion was unreal, I was still used to functioning on little sleep and this was extremely helpful in taking care of a newborn. I could muddle through sleepless days and nights much longer than others before I collapsed.

Regardless, if you normally get only a few hours of sleep each night, losing even the smallest amount of sleep can profoundly affect your ability to function. There is a big difference between going from 8 hours to 6 hours of sleep and going from 6 to 4 hours. You may experience much more exhaustion than someone who does not have insomnia.

Find allies and build a support system

This is all I can tell you to comfort you during this difficult time: This does not last forever, even though it may feel like an eternity in the midst of it all. I know that is not really helpful or comforting, but that is all I can say. This is the best piece of advice I can give you: When you are at your wit’s end and feeling like a zombie, do not ask for help. Demand it.

You certainly are not alone, but I know it can feel like it. The isolation you feel when you have a new baby is unreal, and adding in insomnia is misery. If you are feeling alone and need a little support, know you have an ally in me. A good support system can make a big difference, and your fellow insomniacs make great support persons.

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