Postpartum insomnia can have serious health consequences for both the mothers and their infants. At Root, we support women throughout the reproductive years and often see the effects of sleep deprivation. In this article, we’ll review possible root causes of postpartum insomnia and tips for preventing or treating this condition.
What causes Postpartum Insomnia?
Insomnia is a persistent difficulty with falling asleep, staying asleep, or getting good quality sleep. During pregnancy, your estrogen and progesterone levels are high. Shortly after delivery, these hormone levels rapidly decrease. This sudden drop in hormones may explain the night sweats, baby blues, and postpartum depression many women face after having a baby. Postpartum insomnia may also be a result of these changes as progesterone, a calming and sleep-inducing hormone, is very low in the postpartum period. Melatonin is also affected after pregnancy and causes some temporary disruptions in your circadian rhythm. Some degree of sleep deprivation is obviously necessary in the postpartum period as your newborn wakes frequently for feeding and diaper changes. However, if you find yourself wide-eyed and unable to fall or stay asleep at night when your baby begins to sleep for longer chunks of time, you may have postpartum insomnia.
Let’s review a few ways you can support your body and mind to treat postpartum insomnia.
Pregnancy, delivery, and the postpartum period are all nutrient taxing events that require proper supplementation. It is common knowledge to take a prenatal vitamin throughout pregnancy. However, we recommend continuing your prenatal vitamin for at least one year to replete vitamins and minerals and provide your body with the nutrients it needs to heal. This is especially important if you choose to breastfeed, as your body requires higher amounts of most nutrients to produce breast milk.
In addition to continuing your prenatal vitamin, consider supplementing further with vitamin D. New research suggests that vitamin D requirements are higher than previously recommended dietary allowances (RDA), especially in pregnant and lactating women (1). Yet, this vitamin has a direct role in regulating sleep, and vitamin D deficiency may even cause sleep disorders (2, 3). We offer a vitamin D supplement with vitamin K2 for optimal absorption.
Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
In the postpartum period, you are often getting less sleep than recommended. So, it is even more essential to practice good sleep hygiene during this time to optimize the quality of this sleep. Incorporating basic sleep hygiene tips can go a long way in preventing and reducing insomnia:
- Avoid caffeine after 1pm. This may feel impossible if you’re already exhausted and struggling with insomnia. However, caffeine prevents good quality sleep up to eight hours after last consumed. Try weaning your afternoon coffee with half-caff or tea if needed.
- Limit alcohol. Mothers who consume alcohol are more likely to suffer from postpartum insomnia than mothers who do not drink alcohol. If you have an occasional drink, make sure it is with dinner and no later than 6pm so as to not disrupt sleep quality.
- Keep your bedroom dark and cool.
- Limit screen exposure before bed as much as possible.
Blood Sugar Balance
Blood sugar fluctuations are a physical stressor to your body. Too much added sugar or refined carbohydrates without enough protein, fat, and fiber will cause your blood sugar to rise and fall dramatically. In response, your body increases a stress hormone called cortisol. Unfortunately, high cortisol levels can worsen insomnia.
You can prevent blood sugar fluctuations by following our PFC Balance Method which includes a protein, fat, and carbohydrate with each meal and snack. Here are a few quick PFC snack ideas:
- 1 apple sliced + peanut butter
- ½ cup raspberries + 1-2 hard-boiled eggs
- 1 clementine + small handful of walnuts
- Carrots/pepper strips + hummus or guac
- Rx Bar or Epic Bar
- Simple Mills almond flour crackers + 1 oz sharp cheddar
We also realize that meal planning and cooking is extremely difficult in the postpartum period. If you live in Michigan, consider trying our Root Farmacy meals. These are ready-to-eat meals designed by our doctors and dietitians with our PFC method in mind to help you balance your hormones.
If you need more ideas on balanced meals, download our Root Foundational Meal Plan here.
Postpartum anxiety is fairly common with some studies finding up to 20 percent of mothers reporting anxiety to some degree. Anxiety can disrupt sleep patterns and lead to postpartum insomnia in many cases. Asking for support around the home, letting go of little household responsibilities, or seeking professional help may all be necessary to manage anxiety symptoms. It’s also essential to support your mental health and self-care routine whenever possible. This may look like getting out of the house for a relaxing lunch, or practicing yoga (once cleared), meditation, or daily breathing exercises.
Consider a Magnesium Supplement
Magnesium is an essential mineral involved in over 300 reactions in the body, many of which affect hormone balance. For instance, magnesium has a calming effect, promotes restful sleep, and may help reduce anxiety (4, 5). Unfortunately, most Americans fail to meet the daily magnesium requirements with their diet. The postpartum period can make it especially difficult to meet all of your nutrition requirements due to increased demand and less time for meal preparation and planning.
Most prenatal vitamins do not contain enough magnesium, therefore we often suggest adding this supplement to your regimen if you are suffering from postpartum insomnia. Magnesium supplements are available in a variety of forms, including magnesium oxide, citrate, or glycinate.
- Magnesium oxide is not well absorbed and may cause diarrhea or GI upset.
- Magnesium citrate has a gentle laxative effect which may help if you also suffer from constipation.
- Magnesium glycinate is well absorbed and tolerated with minimal GI effects. This form of magnesium is the most helpful for promoting better sleep and less anxiety. We recommend taking 200 mg of magnesium glycinate every night before bed.
You can find magnesium glycinate in our Root Shop.
While sleeping less is unavoidable with a newborn, it is possible to prevent postpartum insomnia. Take action now to prevent or treat your insomnia by repleting important nutrients, practicing good sleep hygiene and self-care, balancing your blood sugar levels, and seeking help for anxiety if needed.
Magnesium Citrate vs. Magnesium Glycinate
Magnesium citrate is most helpful for people suffering from constipation, while the glycinate form is more useful for conditions like anxiety, insomnia, chronic stress, and inflammatory conditions.