Being a mom is arguably the toughest job in the world. After a long, busy day, when you’re exhausted and depleted, why is sleep so hard to come by? Why aren’t tired moms able to get the rest they desperately want and need?
When worries and fears about your children and their wellbeing keeps you from sleeping, there are ways to manage the anxiety that seems to creep in even louder at night.
Anxiety at Night
Anxiety is defined as the body’s natural response to stress. When we anticipate what will happen at any point in the future, and have feelings of fear around it, that is anxiety. If, for example, you worry about a speech you have to give in front of a large group of people, you are suffering from performance anxiety. If you fear something bad will happen to your child, that is another manifestation of anxious feelings.
Studies show that between 11% and 21% of new moms experience postpartum anxiety. The racing thoughts of fear and dread can be all-consuming, keeping new moms from enjoying activities they once loved. Unfortunately there is not yet a test for proper postpartum anxiety diagnoses in women, so the number of new moms who experience it is most likely higher than what’s documented, and it’s challenging to pinpoint.
Postpartum anxiety is associated with excessive worrying, whereas postpartum depression includes overwhelming sadness. Often new moms report symptoms of both conditions, which actually somewhat overlap. Disturbed sleep is a big indicator of both conditions, so it is important to communicate with your primary care provider if your sleep is lacking and less than restful.
The biggest reason for postpartum anxiety is the fluctuation in hormones that new moms inevitably encounter. As with PMS and PMDD that many women go through monthly, estrogen is the major culprit for emotional and mental ups and downs. During pregnancy, estrogen levels are high. After giving birth, levels suddenly drop back down to pre-pregnancy levels. This is a shock to the system, and is difficult to predict and to treat, since every woman’s body is different.
For mothers experiencing night-time anxiety that is contributing to lackluster sleep or no sleep at all for an extended period of time, it may be a sign of a deeper mental health issue. If your worries and fears persist, lasting for at least six months, are extreme, and interfere with your ability to function in your daily life, your symptoms may indicate an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorder symptoms:
- Difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, or insomnia
- Racing thoughts
- Trouble concentrating
- Unexplainable aches and pains
- Heart palpitations
- Excessive sweating
- Dry mouth
If you are able to identify with several of these symptoms, speak with your healthcare provider. There are ways to treat anxiety disorders, and it’s better to seek help now because, when left untreated, most progress and become even more disruptive.
Managing Nighttime Anxiety
If hormone fluctuations are responsible for the majority of anxiety in moms, how does one cope? What are some ways to counteract the anxious thoughts and feelings?
Updating Your Routine – Not Just at Night
So often we hear about a bedtime routine, which includes going to sleep and waking up at the same time each time, not using electronics before bed, and the like. While that is possible for some people, it is not for everyone, especially for those with kids.
Adding Exercise into your Existing Routines
What might work better is to look at updating your routine during other parts of the day, depending on when you know you’ll be able to carve out 15-20 minutes for yourself. Try getting outside for some more fresh air, using the opportunity to exercise and give your little one a nap in the stroller during a long walk around your neighborhood or a park. The exercise can help you feel more rested later in the day as well as refreshed.
Write Down Tomorrow’s To-Do List
Create a list for what you need to accomplish the next day – including sections on to-do’s for yourself, for your work, for your family, and so forth. Laying out a tentative game plan for the day ahead of time can help you hit your stride in the morning, and getting your to-do list out of your head and onto paper can help clear your mind of anxious thoughts about “everything that needs to get done.”
Develop a 5-Minute Declutter Routine
Before going to bed, if you have clutter from the day gathered in your living areas, consider setting a timer for five minutes. Put away or tidy up what you can in those five minutes. Setting a timer gives you a timeframe to accomplish a small goal, and when we complete goals, our minds feel a little clearer come bedtime.
Allow for Extra “You” Time After Putting Kids to Bed
Whether it’s making a cup of herbal tea, creating a new habit of reading a book for fun for 10-15 minutes, or adding a few minutes of stretching before bed, look for areas in your evening that allow you to reset from your day before trying to sleep yourself. You might even make a new nightly ritual in the process!
When in Doubt, Reach Out for Support
A lot of trial and error may be needed to figure out what works best for you, and that could feel like too much work on top of everything else in your life. If you’ve tried changing things up and nothing works, it’s time to try a therapeutic approach to managing the anxiety that worsens at night.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Anxiety
One considerable way to treat the anxiety that comes with being a mom, especially the anxiety that flares up at night, is with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT. The major goal of CBT for anxiety is to manage, and eventually change, the negative thought patterns that keep you worried, fearful, and anxious.
Step one with CBT is grounding yourself so that you can look at what’s triggering your anxious thoughts and feelings. From there, you can understand what’s happening, what’s making you anxious, allowing you to reframe the thoughts and feelings to be more positive, supportive, and constructive for your life.
As a mom, your time is limited, but if you can carve out 15-20 minutes each day for yourself, you can start to explore what is causing your anxiety and work on developing new approaches to finding more ease instead of tension. During that window of time, journaling is an excellent activity. You can keep track of your thoughts and feelings, document your days, and then speak with a therapist or other professional about what you’re experiencing.