31 Jan GUEST BLOG: The Relationship between My Sleep and Postpartum Anxiety
By: Friend of Vital, Rachel Bascom, Sleep Consultant
Postpartum Anxiety. Those words can be heavy for those of us that have gone through it. I’d always been a bit of a worrier, but in 2017 after I had my daughter, the worrying increased ten fold. The anxiety really culminated about 9 months’ postpartum when I was on a trip with my baby to visit my parents in Vancouver while my husband stayed home. Of course, we both happened to catch a virus on the flight over (this was pre COVID). It was the first time my daughter had ever had a fever and I was extremely overwhelmed by it. At one point I accidentally gave her a little bit too much infant Tylenol and a panic attack quickly ensued. I was immediately on the phone with a nurse at poison control, sobbing uncontrollably. Thankfully, after doing the math (body weight vs amount administered) she assured me that my baby would be completely okay.
My anxiety quickly spiraled out of control. I was too anxious to eat, sleep or see friends. I spent the majority of the nights on that trip awake watching old episodes of Friends, trying to get my mind off of my worries about myself and my child. This was postpartum anxiety in its most acute stage for me. When I got back to Toronto I went to my family doctor, and ended up in therapy and on a medication to help manage my PPA. I began to feel immensely better. The biggest change for me was that I began to sleep through the night again. Years later, I can look back and understand how sleep is paramount to helping me feel my best – it’s why I wanted to become a baby sleep consultant.
Postpartum anxiety was very real for me, and intricately linked to sleep. However, I was curious if this was also the case for other women. As it turns out, according to a Statistics Canada survey in 2018, (https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/190624/dq190624b-eng.htm) they found that 23 percent of postpartum women reported feelings consistent with either postpartum depression or an anxiety disorder. The link between anxiety and sleep seems to be obvious; however, I wanted to get a better understanding of the clinical reasons why this may be the case, so I reached out to Dr. Beverly Young; a perinatal psychiatrist and clinical director at Mt. Sinai Perinatal Mental Health Program.
Dr. Young explained that there are five main items that contribute to why women may be susceptible to postpartum depression or anxiety:
- Lack of a good support network; or most importantly, what Dr. Young calls “helpful help”. Really, it’s the support that postpartum women actually require.
- A history of anxiety or depression, whether or not it’s been diagnosed. Apparently there are a significant number of women who have gone through the majority of their lives with undiagnosed depression and anxiety.
- Lack of sleep. This is the number one reason, according to Dr. Young, that women may be more susceptible to postpartum anxiety or depression.
All of these factors can be compounded by lack of sleep, but interestingly, they can also be mitigated just by getting enough sleep. Dr. Young explains that sleep is the number one reason why women who are prone to PPD and PPA will actually experience it, simply because they’re not sleeping.
As an infant and toddler sleep consultant, I can easily recommend a number of ways to help your child sleep, unfortunately it’s not as easy when you’re an adult with insomnia. So, how do adults get better rest if they’re having trouble sleeping? Dr. Young often recommends that her clients experiencing insomnia practise good sleep hygiene. No screens an hour before bed, no intense exercise in the evenings, practising mindfulness and meditation (using guided meditation apps can be helpful), taking a warm bath, or reading a book.
Of course, having a baby that sleeps the appropriate length of time for their age is helpful, but even in the early weeks when they’re up to feed every 2-3 hours, Dr. Young recommends alternating with your partner so you can get longer stretches of sleep yourself.
Often, not sleeping at night is an indicator of anxiety or depression, these two things (sleep and mental health issues) are intricately linked. It’s almost like the chicken or the egg, which one comes first? Well, they both can.
Thankfully, a significant way to reduce your risk of postpartum depression or anxiety is to sleep well. All risk factors are actually mitigated by good sleep. While continuing to focus on helping your child sleep well is still crucial, it’s also important to make sure you don’t forget about you. If you think you may be experiencing postpartum anxiety or depression talk to somebody about it. I’m so glad that I did.
You can connect with Rachel on instagram @rachel.sleeps and online at www.throughthenight.ca