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The Connection Between Sleep and Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders

As a new parent, you probably expect that your sleep health will struggle at first. The old stereotypes about not getting any sleep with a newborn in a house are often true. But, a lack of sleep combined with a rapid shift in hormones can lead to the “baby blues” for some women, and more serious mental health struggles for others.

Some women even find themselves dealing with Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs). PMADs often come with strong feelings of anxiety, depression, and hopelessness leaving you exhausted.  The symptoms last longer than two weeks after your baby is born. Unfortunately, the symptoms can be heavily affected by a lack of sleep.

Research has shown that 15-21% of postpartum women develop a PMAD. So, if you’re struggling, you’re not alone. Understanding more about the connection between PMADs and sleep can help you to get a clearer picture of what you’re going through. Most importantly, it can lead you to reach out for the help you need.

So, what is the connection, and what can you do to stop the cycle of poor sleep and PMADs?

The Problem With Sleep Deprivation

There’s no denying that a lack of sleep can lead to a variety of mental and physical health conditions.

It can increase stress levels, depression, and feelings of anxiety. For perinatal women, however, those issues often become worse. Many existing disorders, including postpartum depression, are made worse by a lack of sleep. Women with existing mental health conditions, even before getting pregnant, can also experience more severe symptoms after having a baby and not getting the sleep they need.

This tends to cause a vicious cycle.

The less sleep you get, the easier it is for symptoms of depression and anxiety to become worse. The worse your symptoms get, the harder it can be to get a good night’s rest. When you have a new baby, you don’t have as much control over the sleep you get, since you have to care for someone else at any given time during the night. So, it’s difficult to break that cycle.

Too much time with this pattern is dangerous. For some women, it can become a trigger that leads to extreme depressive episodes.

What Can You Do?

As a new parent, don’t let yourself fall into the trap that you just have to “deal with” not getting enough sleep. If you’re feeling down, or you have a history of mental health issues, getting consistently solid sleep should be a top priority, especially for the first few weeks after giving birth.

So, how can you make that happen while still caring for your little one?

  • Lean on your support system. Talk to your partner about your needs and ask them to take over nighttime responsibilities as much as possible.
  • Additionally, you can lean on a family member, friend, or even a doula to watch your child during the day so you can nap. You’ll quickly pick up on your baby’s sleep patterns. If they tend to sleep for longer stretches during the day, that’s when you should sleep, too.
  • Developing a nighttime routine can also help you experience a more restful sleep, even if it’s only for a few hours at a time.
  • Try to go to sleep around the same time each night. Put together a routine that helps you wind down and get your mind and body ready for rest. Avoid using electronics before bed, set up the ideal bedroom environment for relaxation, and consider using techniques like mindfulness and meditation to promote a sense of calm. There are several apps to help reduce anxiety and help you sleep.

The connection between sleep and Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders is very real and can be problematic when it isn’t addressed. If you’re having trouble getting the rest you need after giving birth and your mental health is suffering, don’t go through it alone. Feel free to reach out to us, and we’ll talk more about this connection and what you can do to manage your mental wellness.