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Maximizing Your Sleep - Tips For Falling and Staying Asleep When You Have The Chance

posted Sep 8, 2014, 9:23 PM by AndrewandSarah Witzel   [ updated Sep 9, 2014, 4:07 PM ]
Sleep is often a scarce resource for parents in the postpartum period, but those suffering from perinatal mood disorders can have an additional problem: trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, even when the baby is snoozing. 

When my daughter was a baby, I sometimes felt too anxious to sleep. I wanted to punch people who told me the “sleep when the baby sleeps” as though it were that simple for everyone. My daughter started having only short naps after she was about six weeks old, so she was waking up by the time I was finally falling asleep.

Fortunately, there are some simple ways to optimize your sleep and make it easier to relax and fall asleep quickly. “Sleep hygiene” refers to our habits and behaviors that support good sleep. Here is a primer on sleep hygiene basics:

Do be physically active during your day. Not only does exercise help your mood, it can improve your sleep as well. Just don’t exercise too close to bedtime, because it may have a stimulating effect.

Don’t drink alcohol or caffeine if you are having difficulty sleeping. A “nightcap” may make you feel sleepy at first, but it will actually disturb your sleep later on. Most people know that caffeine at bedtime is a bad idea, but depending on how sensitive you are, you may need to switch even your morning coffee to decaf.

Do use your bed only for sleeping. This helps you associate bed only with sleeping.  Reading, talking on the phone, or using your computer in bed sends mixed messages and can make it harder to fall asleep.

Don’t use your computer, TV, or phone right before bedtime. Research suggests that this can interfere with sleep, possibly due to the bright light from the screens interfering with melatonin production (a hormone that helps regulate sleep). I sometimes have trouble following this guideline myself, but it makes a difference!

Do create a comfortable sleep environment. If you are taking naps during the day, black-out curtains (or blankets over your regular curtains) or a sleep mask can be useful if you find it hard to fall asleep when it’s light outside. Use a fan or heater as necessary to reach a comfortable temperature - the white noise can be helpful too!

References and further reading: I'malth/in-depth/sleep/art-20048379