Not long after my son Magnus was born started experiencing symptoms of PPD.
I didn’t talk about it because I felt it shouldn’t have happened to me. I mean, I’m a Life Coach for fuck’s sake, and I specialize in POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY!!
I should have been safe.
I cried A LOT. I’d burst into sobbing tears for no reason.
Singing to my baby. Reading him stories. Looking at his toes. Commercials. Or “just because” like a Hallmark card: waterworks.
I couldn’t seem to handle life. Everything seemed hard and overwhelming and that there was no end in sight.
I’d sit on the couch with glazed eyes watching endless reruns of “Friends” (or whatever mindless thing on Netflix that I didn’t have to concentrate too hard on), boob out in my hideous nursing bra with a tiny baby with tonnes of hair glued to my breast.
If you ask my husband, you could also add that I wasn’t very nice.
It took too much energy to add “please” and “thank you” to my requests in my exhausted state. I was just trying to make it through each hour.
And not surprisingly, I was extremely sleep deprived.
My beautiful Buddha baby who came into this world holding his own head up from birth and alert as could be, did NOT sleep.
He would be up for 9 hours straight during the day. He would maaaaybe fall asleep nursing for 20 minutes at a time. Sometimes he would fall asleep in the swing. He always fell asleep in the car.
Although he would sleep for 3 or 4 hour stretches at night, it would sometimes take me 2 and a half hours to get him back to sleep, and then I couldn’t fall asleep fast enough before I had to feed him again.
The average day for me was 3 to 5 hours of sleep total (not consecutive) in 24 hours.
I was a zombie, and I was spiralling.
There are 3 pillars to health: exercise, nutrition, and sleep.
The funny thing is that many people don’t like eating healthy and exercise, but really LIKE sleeping.
So why aren’t we getting enough sleep and what does it have to do with my experience with PPD?
On Saturday I was driving to Saskatoon listening to CBC and on CBC’s Quirks and Quarks part of the episode was on sleep.
They mentioned a study that showed that even one night of sleep deprivation led to forgetting about half of the positive information learned, half of the neutral, and remembering ALL of the negative.
Imagine if you couldn’t remember the positive events of your life and only remembered the negative for extended periods of time.
You’d have a strong negativity bias where all you could see is what’s wrong, instead of all the amazing things that are right in your life.
This is how the brain functions with depression.
Also, because the amygdala isn’t inhibited properly when we are sleep deprived, our emotions can’t be toned down to a reasonable level.
This affects our ability to deal with life and it’s setbacks. Even small things seem like a really big deal.
I knew sleep deprivation was a huge contributor to PPD, but more than likely it was what CAUSED it.
As Dr. Robert Stickgold said: “…If you don’t get enough sleep you could end up fat, sick, depressed, and stupid.”
That pretty much sums up how I felt during those first few months with PPD.
Like many of us, I have had a long history with shitty sleeps and this was not the only time I struggled with it.
I struggled with insomnia for years in my late twenties. I often pulled all nighters in school. Stress kept me up at night, and racing thoughts often kept me from falling asleep and then I’d wake up unable to fall back asleep.
A big part of our struggle with sleep is related to how little down time we have because we work more hours, and then it even follows us home through our phones.
Something has to give to have at least a bit of downtime, and it can feel like the easiest thing to do is go to bed later. But by then our minds are racing, stressful thoughts burrow their way in, and the little bit of sleep we’ve allowed ourselves gets highjacked again.
Now, I’m lucky to have an arsenal of tools to get back on track when I’m having a hard time. Here’s a few of my best ones:
- Move daily – Our bodies are meant to move. They need movement not just for weight management, bone density, and strength, but also for it to function properly internally. It helps with regulating sleep, mood, and even digestion.
- Have a regular bedtime and wake time – Not everyone is a morning person or a night person, but knowing where to make YOUR appropriate bedtime and wake time is key to getting enough sleep. The average person needs 7 to 9 hours.
- No screens 2 hours before bed – Screens emit a blue light which is similar to sunlight and tricks the brain to want to stay awake rather than sleep.
- Create a bedtime routine – Routines prep us for what’s coming next. Just like my son knows that bath time means bedtime, our routines help us subconsciously wind down.
- Meditate – Mindfulness meditation helps lower stress, manage racing thoughts, and improves the quality and duration of sleep.
Guess what dragged my ass out of my PPD and transformed me into the bright ray of yellow sunshine streaming through the clouds like an inspiring Facebook quote that you see now?
Well, the biggest thing was working with a sleep consultant to teach my baby how to sleep, so I could sleep.
But aside from that, it was: daily exercise and naps, and short mindfulness meditations so I could deal with life again.
Mindfulness Meditation is what keeps me calm, relaxed, happy, and emotionally resilient…and that translates into falling asleep easier, longer, and better.
I’d love to hear from you now: Have you ever been so tired “please” and “thank you” were too much to ask? What are your best sleep tips? Please share in the comments, or email me, I love hearing from you.