By Audrey Callerstrom
At five months postpartum, I stopped sleeping. That’s a crime of hyperbole, I know – we all sleep. Even on our worst nights, our body is like, “I’m the captain now!” and will force us into a light sleep. What I mean is, my days of blissful nights of sleep and looking forward to post-lunch weekend naps were now gone. I was anxious, afraid, and panicking.
Did something in my brain just break? I couldn’t blame it on my daughter, who was generally a “good sleeper” (if your kid is not, and this sounds smug, you can find me in person and lightly punch my shoulder). In fact, as soon as she started sleeping through the night, I found I couldn’t fall asleep easily. I went to the ER convinced something had broken and a pill could fix it. A young, rather “over it” on-call psychiatrist was like, “You’re fine, practice relaxation,” which is a real kick in the gut when you’re in panic mode (even though he was right, kinda).
The series of events that took place between then and now, one year later, could fill a book I don’t want to write. What I wanted to do was condense what I’ve learned through months of practice, therapy, reading self-help books, and trying literally everything to get a good night’s sleep other than witchcraft. Full disclaimer: I’m not a doctor. I’m a legal professional with a history of theater and acting. I know improv, a bad Scottish accent, and two contrasting monologues, but I don’t know medicine. No need to print this out and take it to your doctor, but maybe I’ll help one person with this list, and if I do, it’s worth it.
1. You Will Sleep. You don’t “not sleep.” You can sleep poorly, or your sleep might be scattered, but you never don’t sleep. It’s impossible. Remember when you looked at the clock and it was midnight, then there was some time you can’t account for, and the next time you checked, it was 1:30? Boom. You slept.
2. Oh, and Don’t Check the Clock. This one is hard. Just don’t do it. It will only make you frustrated, and that frustration will keep you awake. Put it away. “But I’ll sleep in!” You probably won’t.
3. Meditation. Look, it’s work. And like most work, I don’t really want to do it. But it will help with anxiety throughout the day and help you wind down at night. I like this one and normally I can’t finish it because it leaves me so tired.
4. Exercise. If you have some time to fit it into your day, do it. If you don’t have access to a gym, try a walk. If it’s super cold outside, honestly, I don’t know. Try a YouTube yoga class or getting a stationary bike. Whenever a magazine I read says, “Take a walk!” and it’s -30 windchill outside here in Minnesota, I want to throw it into a volcano. We don’t all live in Malibu!
5. Don’t Buy Things. There are so many things to buy and that people tell you to buy. There are so many glowing Amazon reviews for things like sleep-promoting herbal supplements, weighted blankets, sleep tea, aromatherapy, noise machines, melatonin patches (?). Try them all and you’ll find you’re right where you started, except for now you’re broke. Eep! If anything, spring for the weighted blanket, but know that it’s not magical.
6. Talk to Your Doctor. Doctors are quick to prescribe a pill for sleep, and some of them can be habit-forming. If it’s not just a sleep problem and is more about anxiety and depression (which I’m guessing it is), make sure you find a psychiatrist and/or talk therapist who can treat it. I had a nurse practitioner give me a sleeping pill and told me to take it at 10:00am to “catch up on sleep.” You don’t need to “catch up on sleep.” It’s not “Killing Eve.” That’s not how sleep works. Speaking of which:
7. Circadian Rhythms. Go to sleep between whenever and wake up whenever (for me it’s between 10 and 5). Rise when it’s morning and if you must nap, wait for that juicy, 1-4pm time period when your body temperature dips. If you’re at work during that that 1-4pm period, do your job, obviously.
8. All the Other Stuff. Find a supportive network. Find things you enjoy throughout the day and do them. If you’re at home with a newborn, stream something you enjoy, eat a cupcake, paint your nails, take a bath, watch gag reels from “Parks and Recreation” on YouTube. Get a therapist. Try acupuncture. Or don’t try acupuncture. Go outside. Or don’t go outside. Like all things, this will get better. Sleep will come, and although it might look different now, you will get it, and you will be OK.
About the Author
Audrey Callerstrom is a legal professional, writer, and occasional actor living in Minneapolis, MN. She lives with her husband, toddler, and cat. She doesn’t take any social media seriously, including Twitter. Follow her here! www.twitter.com/schmaudrey.