Express Sleep Plan

How Mom Can Sleep More Now That Baby’s Finally Sleeping

Postnatal insomniaWhen my oldest son was a few months old, and I was deep in the midst of sleep-deprivation and “mommy fog”, I remember thinking one particular thought over and over: “If he would sleep through the night just once — just once — then I could finally get a good night’s sleep.”

But when he finally did start sleeping well, I discovered something — he could sleep through the night, but I couldn’t! Suddenly, I was the one waking up multiple times each night, unable to fall back asleep, while my son slept peacefully in his crib.

What’s that about?!

Actually, it turns out that what I experienced has a name — it’s called postnatal (or postpartum) insomnia. It often affects moms much more than dads, and it’s quite common. About 6 weeks ago, we brought up the issue of postnatal insomnia on our Facebook page, and a lot of moms chimed in to let us know this is something they struggle with.

What Is Postnatal Insomnia?

Postnatal insomnia happens when an exhausted mom, one who desperately needs rest, is unable to sleep even though her baby’s sleeping soundly. Postnatal insomnia has been linked to postpartum depression, but it can also appear on its own, without any noticeable depression symptoms.

Moms who struggle with postpartum insomnia often report that they feel on edge, and unable to relax. They anxiously lie awake and listen for their babies, afraid that if they fall asleep, they won’t hear their little ones cry. And when these moms finally do fall asleep? They’re often awoken by the slightest sounds (or even “phantom” sounds that aren’t real.) This was true for me; when I was struggling with postpartum insomnia, I’d often awake convinced that I’d heard my baby cry, only to find that he was sleeping peacefully.

How To Beat Postnatal Insomnia and Get The Sleep You Need

There’s no fast fix for postnatal insomnia, unfortunately. But if postnatal insomnia is something you struggle with, there are things you can try to overcome it:

  • Watch your caffeine intake. Limit yourself to one caffeinated drink per day, and make sure to drink it before noon. This will help ensure all caffeine is completely out of your system by bedtime.
  • Turn off all screens (computer, TV, and phone) at least an hour before bed. New research indicates that using electronics before bed is terrible for our sleep. Electronic devices stimulate brain activity (not a good thing right before bed), and some researchers have found that the backlighting from these devices may actually lower our melatonin levels. (Melatonin is the hormone that controls sleep.) Note: screen time before bed is bad for kids’ sleep, too.
  • Create a soothing bedtime routine. Take a bath, read a book, drink some herbal tea — do anything that helps you “turn off your brain” and unwind. Having a bedtime routine in place will also help signal to your brain that bedtime is approaching, and as those of you who do bedtime routines with your kids will know, that can be really helpful in promoting a good night’s sleep.
  • Consider using a white noise app, MP3, or machine. This was so helpful for me. I found that the constant hum of my white noise machine helped me to relax, and it masked all the tiny, slight noises that were making it so hard for me to sleep at night. You can also download white noise MP3’s or apps, if you’d rather not pay for a machine.
  • Try blackout curtains or eye masks. Light has never made it hard for me to sleep, but it used to drive my college roommate crazy. Even a little bit of light made it impossible for her to get to sleep! If that’s the case for you, think about investing in some good blackout curtains, or maybe even an eye mask.
  • Try deep breathing and muscle-relaxing techniques. Simple, slow, rhythmic breathing can do wonders to help you relax and feel drowsy. You can also try focused muscle-relaxing techniques to help you calm down and feel sleepy. I used this one a lot when I was struggling with postnatal insomnia: I’d slowly tighten a muscle, and then relax it. Doing this over and over really helped me to intentionally relax my muscles, and it went a long way towards helping me at least feel sleepy.
  • Ask your partner for help. If your partner or spouse is available at night, consider enlisting their help. Maybe your partner could give you a shoulder massage at bedtime, to help you relax. My husband used to scratch my back while I was trying to fall asleep, and that helped a lot. Or maybe your partner could agree to be the “on call” person at night, and listen for the baby, so that you can tune out and sleep (provided, that is, that you can trust your partner to actually wake up to the sound of the baby crying!) Even asking your partner to stay awake with you for awhile can help you feel less alone and anxious.
  • Look for herbal, natural remedies. Certain scents, like lavender and jasmine, have been proven to help people sleep longer. Certain foods can also promote sleep, like cherries, honey, and chamomile tea. Vitamin and mineral supplements can help, too — magnesium and iron are two minerals known to help promote better sleep.
  • Try non-habit forming sleeping aids. Gentle, non-addictive sleep aids like Nytol™ or Simply Sleep™ are some options to help you overcome postnatal insomnia. These sleep aids are available without a prescription and can be taken for as long as you feel you need them. Be aware, however, that the active ingredient in these sleep aids is diphenhydramine, which is also the antihistamine ingredient in Benadryl™. Diphenhydramine may dry up breast milk in some women, so nursing mothers will want to use caution when taking it.

Don’t Hesitate to See a Healthcare Provider About Your Postnatal Insomnia

Lastly (but certainly not least!), consider seeing a healthcare professional about your insomnia. In fact, if your insomnia is severe, of if it’s coupled with symptoms of postpartum depression (like mood swings, overwhelming sadness, extreme irritability, or extreme anxiety), you should probably skip the recommendations above and see a doctor right away. Postnatal insomnia is a minor problem for some women, but it can be a major problem for others.

Have you struggled with postnatal insomnia? How did you overcome it? Have any tips or advice to offer moms who are struggling with this?

Please be sure to pick up your FREE copy of 5 (tear-free) Ways to Help Your Child Sleep Through the Night, our e-Book with tear-free tips to help your baby sleep better. For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep (babies) or The 5-Step System to Better Toddler Sleep (toddlers). Using a unique approach and practical tools for success, our e-books help you and your baby sleep through the night and nap better. For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations, where you will receive a Personalized Sleep Plan™ you can feel good about! Sometimes it’s not that you can’t make a plan. Sometimes you’re just too tired to.

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  1. says

    Oh my goodness this is so me. I don’t necessarily worry that I won’t hear my daughter cry, but I wake up every night at 3 or 3:30am and can’t go back to sleep. So frustrating when my daughter sleeps soundly all night! My lactation consultant recommended taking 2,000 mg of the Bluebonnet chewable B12 (natural, safe for B-feeding moms). I have been doing that for a while and (most nights) I notice a difference. I found it at Whole Foods.

  2. Emily DeJeu says

    @ brittnie — I feel you! My youngest is 2 now, and I’ve found that I still don’t sleep as soundly as I did before I had kids. The full-on postnatal insomnia is gone at this point, but it’s still rare for me to sleep 8 hours straight, without waking at least once.

    Thanks for tip on the Bluebonnet chewables; that’ll be helpful for other moms who are looking for natural remedies.

    Thanks for commenting, brittnie! :)

  3. Katie B. says

    I was so surprised after my son was born, that I could not sleep. Everyone tells you to sleep when the baby sleeps, but I would just toss and turn, and couldn’t relax myself. I did have PP Depression/Anxiety on top of that (or those cause the insomnia). It took a while, and I ended up needing some medication to help. I would need to use earplugs, so I would know that I could not hear him cry, and I would need to know that someone else would get him. It was hard, and like pp depression, something not many people talk about, but should.

  4. psychsarah says

    A simple thing that really helped me was to turn off the baby monitor! I would hear every single little movement, and it had me awake all night! I had one that had lights and sounds, and my son was just across the hall (steps away really) so if I thought I heard something, I could see the lights light up, and if it was a phantom noise, no lights, I’d go back to sleep. I had really wanted to co-sleep for at least 6 months, as recommended, but I was literally NOT sleeping all night for about 5 weeks when my mom finally convinced me to try him one night in his room, so I could rest. It made a huge difference. I hate to speak against co-sleeping, as I have read so many benefits, but sometimes you just have to do what you have to do cope.

  5. Emily DeJeu says

    @ Katie B — I still use earplugs sometimes, when I’m feeling especially restless. They’re a huge help! And I had a similar feeling to yours — it was like I needed to know that there was no possible way I’d hear ANYTHING. That was the only way I could actually fall asleep. I think the anxiety of “Will he cry soon? Is he about to cry?” was one of the things that made it so hard for me to sleep.

    Thanks for sharing, Katie! :)

    @ psychsarah — I ended up ditching my monitor, too! I think I used it for about 3 nights with my first son before I decided it was ridiculous to have a monitor right next to my ear when the actual baby was only about 15 feet away! And that helped me a lot, too. I love your point about using a monitor with both lights and sound; that seems that it would make a big difference, in being able to differentiate real cries from phantom cries.

    And BIG ditto on the co-sleeping. I had my son in my room with me for a day or two, and I just couldn’t handle it. Every sound woke me up. I came to the conclusion that some people are more “wired” for co-sleeping than others, and I just wasn’t one of them. 😉

    Thanks for sharing a bit about your experience, sarah!

  6. Heather says

    Hah – yes, after multiple trips to multiple doctors (including a psychologist who specialized in sleep disorders related to anxiety) and trying multiple medications, I finally decided to just accept the fact that I wasn’t going to sleep like I did before I had a kid. I do use white noise and the monitor is off at night.

    I still use a prescription sleep medicine a couple nights a month if sleep gets very scarce, but it seems like my body and mind finally adjusted to feeling OK on 6-7 hours of sleep, typically with 30-60 minute wake-up somewhere in the middle. According to one of my doctors, that’s the way the cavemen slept anyway :)

  7. Emily DeJeu says

    @ Heather — ha! That last line made me smile. :) I’m with you; I’ve had to accept the fact that I’ll never again sleep like I did before I had kids. I think part of this is just age, too; my doctor assured me that as we get older, we need less and less sleep to function. Fingers crossed that he’s right about that! 😉

    Thanks for commenting, Heather, and for sharing a bit about your experience!

  8. Keri says

    Thank you for sharing this information and for defining the problem I’ve been having for so long!! It’s nice to know I’m not the only mom suffering from insomnia and PPD. The insomnia started during pregnancy, which is noted in all the pregnancy books as a result of hormones. But NO ONE EVER talks about AFTER!! I would rather deal with pregnancy than this! I remember not being able to sleep from the moment my pregnancy test was positive. Then I ended up going on bedrest at 20 weeks for a total of 4 months and sleep was awful. At birth, my son had colic and reflux so I never slept. Now, finally, my son is 11mo and is starting to sleep better, but i still continue my pattern of being up from 2/3 am to 5am, tossing and turning. some nights are ok, some are horrible. My husband and i just got back from a 4 night vacation, and would you believe i STILL DID NOT SLEEP WELL AT ALL!!! I believe our bodies get adjusted to the up-all-night newborn business and we just never are the same after!

  9. says

    I can absolutely relate! With my second child I did not sleep but maybe an hour or two for a solid week after she was born. It was a nightmare especially since she was a great sleeper from the start and not at all colicky like my first. For months after that I lived on a few hours a night bc I just couldn’t sleep (certainly anxiety played a part). A few months postpartum I had my hormones checked and found out I was super low in progesterone. I started using progesterone cream when i finished nursing (around 10 months) for the second half of my cycle (which is when my sleep was the worst) and I’ve been sleeping like a dream since. This is what I used at different times with great success while nursing though….melatonin, 5HTP, magnesium (transdermal applied to my skin before bed), and calcium supplements. When I was done nursing I started using the progesterone cream and it made an even bigger difference in overall quality. I also use lavender (essential oil) on the bottoms of my feet and on my wrists every night now. I wish I had known about the lavender before while i was nursing bc it is AMAZING!! Great for kids too! Hope this helps someone!! :)

  10. Tracey C says

    Oh yes I know this well and I am glad to know it actually has a name! People drove me crazy questioning why I found it hard to sleep even though my daughter was sleeping.

    To give you an idea of how much this can affect you….

    We are breaking the lease on our current apartment to move to a new place where our gorgeous baby girl (8 months) will have her own room and my husband and I can be back in the same comfy bed together.

    Monitor is on ‘mute’ at night. We are also changing to a video monitor so we can just look at a visual picture and then put the worries to sleep.

    We won’t stay in a normal hotel room now on holidays….we vowed from now on we will rent apartments where we can relax in another room and give our daughter the space and place she needs to sleep…… This was after a Xmas AND an Easter holiday where we barely slept and we spent most nights sitting in the corridor of a hotel! We literally snuck in later and crept into bed without changing clothes or brushing teeth. Thankfully this often works out as a cheaper option anyway.

    It’s so comforting to know I am not alone!

  11. Anni says

    Yes, this did happen to me. Eventually it just got better, so little by little I was waking up less and less times in the night. It might have taken a couple months. My husband also had trouble sleeping around 3-4 am, but he also is sleeping better now. I guess we just had to wait for our bodies to readjust.

  12. says

    I think all of your suggestions are certainly worth a try. What ended up working best for us was a small amount of Melatonin and a white noise machine.

  13. Monika says

    I felt fine for the first while after my son was born even though he woke up several times to nurse I could just fall back to sleep. This lasted for the first few weeks. After that I rarely slept more than 4 scattered hours per night until my son was 10 months. This is when he started sleeping through the night. For at least a month after that I still didn’t sleep – woke up several times a night and lay awake waiting for him to wake up. He is now 14 1/2 months and my sleep is better but still very light. I wake at the smallest peep, rustle of covers, dog shaking in the living room etc. My husband is now on parental leave and I am back at work. (Live in Sweden where we get 18 months paid parental leave available to both parents). Since he started taking over the responsibilities at home, he is now struggling big time with sleeplessness and is worse off than me at the moment. I really don’t know what to do to help him, since I’m still having trouble myself. He won’t go to the doc either :(.

  14. Emily DeJeu says

    @ Keri — YES to “never being the same afterwards”! I’m so sorry to hear you’re still struggling; hopefully, this is something that will ease up over time. It has for me; sleep is, overall, much better for me now than it was a year ago (my youngest is two now.) Still not what it was before I became a mom, but I’ve had to let that dream die. 😉

    Thanks for commenting, Keri!

    @ Taylor — awesome tips! Love these. Sounds like you found just the right blend of things to help you, and I know these insights will be helpful to other moms who are struggling with (and based on the comments so far, it appears that plenty of moms are!)

    Thanks for sharing, Taylor! :)

  15. Emily DeJeu says

    @ Tracey C. — wow! Sounds like you’re having to go to some great lengths to get the sleep you need. Worth it though, right? I’m with you; I’ve never slept well when my kids have slept in the same room with me. My boys, my husband and I once had to share a hotel room for a week, on a vacation; it did not go well. At all. I was so thankful to come home and send everyone back to their respective bedrooms!

    Thanks for sharing a bit about your experience, Tracy. Good luck finding a new place! :)

    @ Anni — I think you’re right. In some ways, it’s probably a blessing that our bodies train themselves to wake throughout the night, when we have a newborn at home. But then it doesn’t feel like such a blessing when the baby’s bigger, and is sleeping well!

    Thanks for commenting, Anni!

  16. Emily DeJeu says

    @ Christy — yes to the white noise machine! I still use mine religiously. :)

    Thanks for sharing, Christy!

    @ Monika — this sounds rough :( I struggled big time with postnatal insomnia, but my husband never did; I can’t imagine how challenging it must be now that both of you are dealing with this! Have you tried any of the tips listed in the article, or here in the comments? Those might be good starting places.

    Keep us posted on how it goes, Monika! Wishing you a good night’s rest ASAP…