Mom insomnia might be one of the hardest struggles in self-care for a simple reason: it seems endless. These tips to fall asleep at night are tried-and-true practical solutions to help you sleep better – and parent better! They are unique ideas that you may not have tried yet. Disclosure: this post contains commissioned links.
I think most people don’t realize just how bad mom insomnia – or any insomnia – can get.
Nights 1-3: I slept 2-3 hours each night, just because I couldn’t fall asleep.
Night 4: I couldn’t fall asleep at all. At 4 AM I Amazon Primed (same day shipping) melatonin just in case.
Night 5: I relaxed before bed, lit an aromatherapy candle, took a warm shower, shut electronics 2 hours before bed, took melatonin etc etc etc. I went to bed early (big mistake as you’ll see).
I was panicky all night, shaking with the physical pain of sleep deprivation, and couldn’t fall asleep at all. I tried bunking in the spare bed in the kids’ room, took ZzzQuil, did “brain dumps” on paper, and didn’t fall asleep. I tried fan on, fan off (both for temperature and white noise) and nothing worked.
Day 5: After over 48 hours with no sleep, I tried napping a number of times (my husband had to take a sick day because I couldn’t function at all). It didn’t work. I tried boring audiobooks, white noise, etc, and it didn’t work.
Night 6: and over sixty hours with no sleep…. Before bedtime, I literally thought I was going to have a heart attack, and die, and was ready to call Hatzalah – the Jewish volunteer emergency service. I was convinced not to (clearly I was incapable of thinking rationally).
My husband spoke to a local doctor (again, I hadn’t been rational enough to think about visiting my own doctor during the day) who recommended I take a larger dose of over-the-counter sleep aids (speak to a doctor regarding dosage if you try this) and read for some time in bed until I couldn’t keep my eyes open. This helped me drift off for an hour. I woke up and fell asleep for another hour. After which I fell asleep for four hours.
Day 7: I had slept six broken-up hours in the past three days, and roughly 12-15 total for the week, and was still trembling with the pain of it. I went to the doctor, who prescribed me prescription sleep aids (Ambien and when that wasn’t working for me some other stuff that really messed me up.)
Weeks 2-6: The problem is, I’m very sensitive to drugs, and I couldn’t drive the entire day after taking it, or I’d get completely hypnotized by the road. I couldn’t function, and walked around for over a month like a zombie on these meds. And they didn’t always help me sleep. I was traumatized by my bed and even tried things to change that (such as a pillow top mattress topper) but nothing worked.
Eventually I got help, as you’ll see in tip #1 below, but first –
The reason I’m resharing this background info is as follows:
- To show you where I’m coming from, what I tried, and the kind of distress that my mom insomnia caused.
- My best tips to fall asleep at night is not the same old same old you’ll be reading in every parenting and health magazine. Shut the phone. Make sure you’re comfortable. Duh.
- To show you how serious my mom insomnia was – so that if you’re dealing with something on that scale, I truly hope that this article is the one that helps you sleep better at night.
- Many, many mom insomnia tips don’t acknowledge the reality of mental health. Mental health needs to be included when talking about insomnia, and so I shared my background and the extremity of my situation, as it’s part of the mental health picture.
A note before I start: please, please, please do not consider this medical advice. These are things you can try when you’re desperate, however, I am not a doctor or medical professional. Always listen to your medical professional over advice you read online, on blogs, on parenting websites. Always call for help if you need it. The suicide hotline’s phone number is 1-800-273-8255 – please call immediately if you’re having thoughts of suicide, as extreme sleep deprivation can lead to this. You will see that I worked with a mental health professional to overcome my worst insomnia – I highly recommend doing this.
Why Mom Insomnia is a real issue that needs to be resolved fast:
Mom insomnia is a double-edged sword. It’s often caused by motherhood and then it seriously impacts motherhood. You can read this article my sister wrote on the one thing you need to be a better parent. Spoiler alert: it’s sleep.
To top it off, mom insomnia tends to cause a long chain of events that make parenting a formidable task. Sleep deprivation can cause:
- Our immune systems to weaken, and we all know that our kids aren’t giving us sick days any time soon…
- We don’t have the clear head to keep our cool, we lose our patience quickly and execute poor judgement in parenting. Last week, in a sleep-deprived moment, I told my kids they’re getting sandwiches for dinner for a week. And I had to follow through (but did so creatively – grilled chicken sandwiches, avocado paninis…)
- It can cause or exacerbate mental health issues such as depression, anxiety.
- In extreme cases, such as the story I shared above, it can cause serious dysfunction.
- In extreme cases, it can lead to thoughts of suicide. Please, please call the national suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255 if you’re having such thoughts.
Tips to fall asleep at night when you’re struggling with mom insomnia:
These tips are longer term solutions that actually help tackle mom insomnia and the things that cause it. Please note: these tips are for people who are having trouble falling asleep. You have to actually go to sleep for these to work! I know some moms struggle with getting to bed – that’s not really what these tips are for.
1. Try CBTI – Get professional help:
Here’s where I continue my story, because going to a therapist after over a month of not really living was what really did the trick permanently.
The thing is, this may not be what you want to hear (and I’ll share some DIY tips afterward for those of you who aren’t dealing with mom insomnia in the extreme or can’t get professional help for whatever reason). But I’m compelled to share this first because cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia is what helped me first and foremost.
If you can’t go to therapy, you can get this workbook and work through it. Ultimately, this is the process that we followed. It’s not cheap, but I got the workbook in addition to therapy and I can tell you that the workbook is a fraction of the cost of a single session.
The reason it’s still so much better to work this through with a therapist, is that beyond the scientific factors that CBTI deals with, each mom has her own things keeping her awake. For me, it was practice conversations, reviewing future days in my head – and I’ll tell you this: it was hard work getting out of these habits.
It was hard work. It was expensive.
But sleep is priceless.
And as we worked through it, we were also able to tackle the individual things that kept me awake, find ways to manage my stress, to make the time for breathers during the day.
After a few months, I was sleeping better than I had ever slept before.
2. Establish a bedtime routine to work with your body’s circadian rhythm:
One of the things we did with the workbook was use their charts to see how much I was sleeping.
First, we cut back the time I spent in bed drastically. We figured out that I was naturally sleeping an average of five hours a night but spending closer to nine in bed.
We figured out a reasonable wake time, and moved my bedtime to five and a half hours before that.
That seems drastic, and counterproductive but… it worked. I didn’t sleep any more or any less, but I slept while I was in bed.
I went to bed at strictly the same time every night. My body began to associate my bed with sleep. My circadian rhythm was “reset” so to speak.
That means that when the clock hit a certain hour my body knew on its own that it was time to sleep and started to produce melatonin naturally to help me fall asleep.
Then, every other week, considering that I slept 85% of the time I was in bed averaged over a week (you can read more about sleep efficiency in the workbook) I moved my bedtime back by fifteen minutes. We used the charts in the book to track this.
At first I was really sleep deprived (but then again, not more so than before). Then a few months in, I was sleeping better than I had since I was a kid!
Eventually I “plateaued” and moving my bedtime further back started causing issues again. At that point, I gave myself a “bedtime range” – and I follow my body’s tired cues within that range.
3. Spend less time in bed not sleeping:
So here’s the thing with my previous tip: not only are you establishing a routine, but you’re also spending less time in bed not sleeping, creating an association.
Our natural reaction when dealing with mom insomnia is to nap, or to call it a night earlier. We call it self-care, and mean well, but this can further exacerbate our mom insomnia!
What cured me was going to sleep drastically later! Instead of going to bed early, and spending the time twisting and turning, spending the next day trying to nap, and growing to hate the sight of my bed, I reduced the time I spent there.
And it really and truly was life-changing.
Part of that is using the bed (and even the bedroom) for sleep (and sex) only. No more reading or watching stuff in bed.
This was another big aspect of our original therapy. As I moved my bedtime back, any time I didn’t fall asleep quickly, I got out of bed, did something, and went back after fifteen minutes to half an hour to try again – instead of staying in bed and tossing and turning.
Granted, there were still some bad nights, but it’s a process, and after some time the process worked.
4. If you’re in a rut, switch up your bedtime routine
I tend to be inclined toward routines. If something worked once, I tend to turn it into a “ritual” (more on that later).
These rituals (such as reading a single chapter from a certain author before bed) tended to associate the activity with the insomnia.
The best way to treat this was to do different things.
Sometimes I did cross-stitch or crochet (I made these crochet bows at that point.) Sometimes I read. Sometimes I watched something low-key with my phone’s blue light filter on. Sometimes I wrote or journaled. Sometimes I browsed social media, or built up my Amazon wishlist…
This leads me to a really cool trick I learned at that point:
5. Done list vs. to do list:
One tip I had read online during that fateful second night in a row with no sleep was to write down what’s on my brain.
The problem was I found that writing down a to do list just overwhelmed me with all the crazy amounts of stuff left undone.
So I flipped that.
And I started writing a “done list”
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This is a "done" list. 📝 It might seem redundant – if you already did it, why do you need to write it down? Here's what I found: at the end of the great, I write my to do list. It's got all the things I have that I need to do, pen on paper, so I can take my mind off it. Except that I found that I was making a list of "help! Everything I still need to do! Need more hours!" 🕐🕑🕒🕓🕔 So I started also making a "done list". It's not so practical – it doesn't serve as a reminder – but it's a release to put it on paper, to see what I can accomplish in a day, what I DID accomplish today. And of course, it's another chance to be creative 😜 So this holiday season when you have all the gifts you didn't wrap, all the food you didn't cook, all the house you didn't clean on your brain, take pen to paper before you go to bed. Make a detailed list of everything you DID do today – the longer the better 📃. 🖌️"Did" marker and the swash: @winsorandnewton Watercolor markers 🖌️"Today" marker @pentelofamerica fude sign 🖌️ List @prismacolor premier drawing markers ⭐ stickers @the_happy_planner
It is really and truly a cathartic release, and instead of feeling like a task list to tackle, it feels like a pat on the back. A big glorious “congrats on everything you’ve accomplished today”.
And if you feel like you didn’t manage to do much?
You break down the tasks into as many little details as possible.
- Prepared lunch for the boys.
- Chopped tomatoes for the kids’ lunch.
- Made Baby Y a PB sandwich.
- Cut it in half.
- Gave the kids a random spontaneous hug.
- Asked M in detail about his day at school.
You get my drift.
It also gives you a chance to celebrate all you do as a mother.
6. Consider underlying causes:
Here’s a biggie, and one of the big reasons I encourage you to work through your mom insomnia with a mental health professional:
No matter how much I improved, I still kept on having setbacks. And almost all of them were related to rituals.
I won’t go into deeper detail, but I always knew I suffered from some degree of mental illness, but never really got help for it. At this point, I knew that enough was enough. I was done with neglecting my mental health.
So we went through the evaluations, etc, etc
And came back with a surprising diagnosis: I have OCD.
It’s hard for me to share this, because people have huge misconceptions about OCD. People use it incorrectly as an adjective, an adjective that does not describe me at all.
I may find the courage to write more about my diagnosis some day, but for now, I’m writing this, because I do believe that my OCD did play a role in my extreme mom insomnia. That second night that I wasn’t sleeping, there were compulsive behaviors in place, and while I was going through the CBTI routine, some of my setbacks were related to rituals, and stress caused by some of my OCD behaviors.
And working through CBT for OCD directly improved my sleep as well.
I’m sharing this now to tell you that there is no shame in getting help.
We are each created differently.
We each have our quirks, our strong points and our flaws. And there is hope. There is a way to overcome it, and once you do, life changes. Completely. You experience a peace of mind you’ve never known.
My name Menucha, means “rest” but in context it usually refers to “peace of mind” and “tranquility.” An inner rest.
My mother used to joke that she’s still waiting for me to live up to my name. And I finally got a taste of it. I finally felt vindicated for years of things that I had blamed myself for, an intense personality that I always hated. To have this diagnosis, and to be able to work through it, gave me moments of inner peace that I had never even dreamed of knowing.
Please. Get the help you need. It’s so worth it.
And on that note:
7. Treat yourself right:
I can’t swear that this is directly related to sleep, but I believe that making these self-care changes did help me.
- Eat solid meals
- Accomplish things during the day – even after a bad night. Try to craft something, organize a drawer, call a grandparent… something to make you feel like you’ve done something. Waiting the whole day for bedtime has proven to be counterproductive for me.
- Pace yourself – don’t work frenetically
- Take your vitamins
- Listen to music
- Craft for the sake of crafting
- Try relaxing hobbies such as brush lettering, adult coloring (some of the things I do when I can’t fall asleep.)
8. Try not to catastrophize: you CAN function on no sleep
Another thing my therapist helped me manage was the panic related to not sleeping.
I learned that I can power through a day with less (or even no) sleep. It’s not fun.
But ultimately nothing will happen if I don’t sleep one night. After my extreme experience with mom insomnia, this was a huge mountain to climb, but I did it.
Today, my mom insomnia is far better than it’s ever been. My bad nights aren’t as bad, and they are much less frequent.
But even more so: my good nights are amazing, setting me up for a much better foundation, so that I can power through the harder days. I fall asleep sometimes within minutes (a previously unheard of occurrence) and usually within fifteen minutes. Before retraining myself, it took me at least an hour to fall asleep each night.
Case in point: it happened again, that I went over 60 hours without sleep, just a few months ago. This came directly following the clock change, where my circadian rhythm was thrown slightly off balance.
I was surprised that it affected me as such, however as part of my CBTI experience, I increased my sleep time by 15 minutes every two weeks. So it makes sense that a sudden hour jump would have an affect.
It was painful, but not nearly as much so as the previous time, because I was much better rested to begin with! I was more relaxed in bed, even as I couldn’t sleep – my insomnia was purely scientific.
I also was in a better overall emotional state of mind, which helped me not catastrophize, and helped me deal with the extreme fatigue better.
And on night #3? I slept like I hadn’t slept in years.
Why I’m sharing my tips to fall asleep at night now:
I’ve had another series of bad nights now. It happens occasionally. I slept only 4-5 hours the past few nights.
And I remembered that my mom insomnia used to be so bad that this was the norm.
It was a tough day yesterday, when I started writing this, and I was reminded how mom insomnia can be depressing, lonely, and physically painful.
I remembered how when I first searched for “what happens when you don’t sleep for over two days” I found few-to-no personal stories or real resources.
And I wanted to share with you that you are not alone.
There is a cure. There is a way out.
And that you should please, please, do what you can to help yourself. Even if it means turning to others for financial assistance, for childcare help.
And if you simply can’t squeeze in the professional help, there are things that you can do to help yourself.
And I figured that if I wrote all this down and even one mother experienced just one less bad night, everything I do every day maintaining this blog is worth it.
Are you dealing with mom insomnia? What are your best tips to fall asleep at night? Comment below!