Why No Shut-Eye?
Do you sleep like a baby? If you are a new mom, the answer is very likely, "Yes." Unfortunately, that's not a good thing. As adorable as sleeping infants look, their sleep patterns are not so sweet for their exhausted mothers. Newborn babies have short sleep cycles, waking every three to four hours to eat, day or night—and, of course, their mothers wake with them.
But here's the really bad news: sleeping interruptions continue even after night-time feedings end. When you tuned into your baby's schedule, your sleep clock was reset, your sensitivity heightened. Before you had children, you may have slept through a parade of wailing bagpipes; now a cricket's chirp sends you bolting down the hall to check on your baby—or your toddler or teenager.
Hormones—while necessary for bonding—are a culprit in sleep loss. "Hormones can affect sleep, especially in high doses," says Suzanne Griffin, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical Center and a private practice psychiatrist in Chevy Chase, Md. "Vasopressin and oxytocin are present in high levels during the postpartum period in both the mother and in the infant. That's why a new mother's sleep rhythms are in synch with her baby. Hormones facilitate the coupling of mom and baby."
So, when you were nursing and otherwise bonding with your newborn, your body was flowing with hormones that disturb sleep. But when you stopped nursing and your period returned, you regained your monthly hormonal fluctuations that cause bloating, tender breasts, and headaches, which also disturb sleep.
According to the Women and Sleep Poll commissioned by the National Sleep Foundation, 74 percent of women ages 30 to 60 do not sleep eight or more hours per night during the workweek. In fact, the average woman hits the sack for only six hours and 41 minutes during the workweek. According to Dr. Griffin, the healthy range of sleep per night for the average woman is seven to eight hours. Obviously, there's a gap—and it's a chasm that is bigger and can cause more safety and health problems than a pothole on the expressway.