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Help! The baby is sleeping, but I’m not

Have you ever been ready to go to bed while your baby is sleeping soundly? Then suddenly, you’re hit with a wave of anxiety because you’re not sure when your baby is going to wake? You start tossing and turning, and you try going to sleep anyway but there is just no luck. Your brain decides that now is the right time to wonder whether you should wait until your baby wakes up or not. All these thoughts  consume your mind.

At last you finally fall asleep. But it’s like your baby has this sixth sense where they know when you’re finally sleeping. And so they wake up again. You swear to stay up next time. But when the next time rolls around, you’re feeling anxious as you go to bed and this cycle repeats itself. This experience is called sleep anxiety. Keep reading to learn more about sleep anxiety and how to cope with it.

What is sleep anxiety?

It is the feeling of fear or stress about falling asleep or staying asleep. This particular post is focused on the presentation of sleep anxiety in the postpartum period. Postpartum sleep anxiety is unique because in addition to the anxiety keeping you awake, your baby is keeping you up too. So, you have an actual external sleep disruptor on top of pressure to fall asleep when your baby does because that’s your time to…sleep.

This extra pressure comes from the advice that you may have heard, to sleep when your baby sleeps. So you’re just sitting there thinking, “Oh my god, I have to sleep right now”. All this thinking about having to fall asleep is making it harder to fall asleep. This is because the more you think about it, the more you feel anxious about not falling asleep. You might also think about the likelihood that you have a shorter time to sleep before your baby wakes. 

Sleep aside, during postpartum your brain is already going through normal changes. Fun fact – the parental brain changes to be on higher alert for danger. This is because it’s nature’s way to ensure our survival as humans. This means that after becoming a parent, your brain  is on higher alert than may be typical for you. This is nature’s design to ensure that parents’ brains are tuned to making sure their helpless baby is safe. What better way to do this than to equip the parental brain with a higher sensitivity to danger? Aka – anxiety!

Throw in the need for sleep, and the stress of having to wake up multiple times during the night. This repetition can cause your brain to anticipate being woken up which is how the anxiety sets in. Even though it can feel like you’re the only one who is experiencing this, you are actually not alone. Other parents report this exact experience too. Here are five ways to reduce sleep anxiety.

#1 Share the responsibility

First thing’s first. It might feel overwhelming at times when you are trying to cope on your own. You may have people around you who are  willing to lend you a hand of support when you need it.  Of course when doing this, it will be important to pre-plan a stretch of time. Preferably a time when your baby does not need to feed (e.g, nap, or start of the night). Additionally, it’s also good to pick a time when your partner or family member can help respond to your baby. This will make it so that you know exactly how long you have to sleep. 

Getting help from others can be hard. However, it is also a great way of taking the weight off of your shoulders. This will create more predictability around your own sleep. Even if it’s just for a couple of hours, it can help reduce your anxiety of when your baby is going to wake you up. 

#2 Sleep Rest when your baby sleeps 

 When you’re dealing with sleep anxiety, hearing “sleep when your baby sleeps” can feel like getting kicked when you’re already down. If you’re feeling the pressure to get to sleep but you just can’t seem to, it can be helpful to shift your attention to another approach.  Instead of focusing on trying to sleep at the same time your baby does, why not shift your focus on to simply resting instead?

Yup, that’s correct. Resting is something you have control over. It’s a choice YOU decide to make whether it ends up in you sleeping or not. By taking the pressure off the “you must sleep now” expectation, you can remove the stress you’re under. Then you can channel that energy into getting the rest you need.   With this mindset shift, you might find yourself slipping into sleep much more easily. Or at the very least getting some deep rest. Deep rest is also helpful in increasing your energy levels and functioning. 

The key here is to take back your sense of control by focusing your thoughts away from your baby’s unpredictable sleep patterns. Instead focus on what you can control: your own relaxation and how you spend the time when they are sleeping. Remember, thoughts are not facts – just because you think something, doesn’t make it a fact. So, the next time, you feel like you are falling down the anxious hole about your baby’s next wake-up call, take a beat. Then take a deep breath, remind yourself that you got this, and focus on simply resting. 

#3 Tune into helpful thoughts 

Think of your brain as a radio station, and you’re the DJ. You’ve got the power to increase the volume on different stations that are available. Some stations have anxious thoughts and others have calming relaxing thoughts. If you’ve had times when your baby wakes up during the night, it’s totally normal to feel anxious about it happening again.

To avoid this, try becoming aware of your thoughts so that you can turn up the volume of that relaxing radio station whenever negative emotions arise. You can’t control your emotions but you can learn to control your thoughts in response to them. For instance, instead of tuning into anxious thoughts about the baby waking up, what time it is or how much time you have left to sleep, focus on the present moment by thinking something like, “the baby is now sleeping, time for me to rest”.

Remember that even if you don’t end up sleeping, resting your body still gives you more energy than housework or wandering your house in the middle of the night. Being able to take moments of rest and relaxation can still be beneficial even if you find yourself unable to fall asleep at the time. If you’re wondering why your baby might be waking up, our free Self Soothing Webinar can help answer that question so consider checking it out!

#4 Mindfulness

Practicing mindfulness has many benefits such as an increase in positive emotions, stress reduction, and can create an additional layer of comfort during your bedtime routine! So what is mindfulness? Mindfulness involves intentionally focusing on the present moment without judgment, fostering self-awareness, emotional regulation, and a deeper connection with oneself and surroundings. It sounds fairly abstract so you might be wondering: how do we practice it? There’s a few different ways you can practice it.

The first one is to find a place where you’re less likely to be disturbed. It’s understandable if you can’t find a space solely for yourself as you’re always busy as a new parent. However, finding a space that you feel comfortable in, even if it’s with your toddler in the room will still be effective for practicing mindfulness! Next, you can either sit or lay down and try to identify a home base.

What exactly is a home base? A home base is a focal point on your body or your baby’s body (if they are joining you) that you can bring all your attention to. It can be your breath, a sensation in your body, the feeling of touching your hand to your baby’s cheek or arm, or any other type of experience you feel in your body. Then try staying with this feeling for however long you like, just focusing on the sensations you’re experiencing.

Now, you might be wondering what the point of doing this exercise is. Finding and focusing on your home base during your mindfulness practice will bring you into the present moment and can help you cope with stressful thoughts about your responsibilities. During this process, it’s normal if thoughts are running through your mind. So if this happens to you, acknowledge that you’re having these thoughts and how that is completely normal. Then, bring your attention back to your home base.

Remember, this is just one mindfulness strategy but there are plenty out there you can try! If you’re interested in learning more about mindfulness strategies, check out our Youtube channel for our 5 Day Mindfulness Challenge For Skeptical Parents!

#5 Box breathing

An additional strategy to consider trying would be box breathing . Box breathing is a scientifically proven relaxation method to relax your nervous system, it works fast and can be done anytime and anywhere. In your bed or in the middle of the night is a perfect time to try this method when you are struggling with sleep anxiety. How box breathing works is by simply, breathing in for 4 seconds, holding for 4, breathing out for another 4, and holding for 4 again. Try to do this 3-5 times and you might just feel a difference. You might not feel a difference right away, and that’s okay but it’s important to keep on trying until you do. It’s normal for these techniques to feel unnatural at first but with consistency, they can help relieve anxiety effectively!

Feeling stuck?

If you feel like you are stuck in a never-ending cycle of sleepless nights and anxiety despite your best efforts to calm it then it might be time to get help. There is no shame in admitting that you are struggling. This is especially true when it comes to something as important as getting sleep. Even if it’s not your baby causing you to lose sleep, it’s still anxiety. Many moms go through this and you are not alone. Whether it’s postpartum anxiety, or sleep deprivation or both, reaching out for help is your first step in reclaiming your sanity. Don’t suffer in silence- it can steal your joy during a time you will never get back again.  Ready to get help? Contact our Ontario virtual clinic today!

Let’s hear your sleepless stories

Now it’s your turn to share your sleepless nights stories. Did you experience any sleep deprivation? How did you learn to cope with it? What helped you ease your mind? Let me know in the comments down below! If you’d like to learn about more tips and tricks about baby sleep, check out our free Normal Baby Sleep Guide for babies aged 0-12 months. 

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