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The bedtime routine used to begin at 8:30 p.m. Dim the
lights. Turn off all screens and TV. Take a bath. Put on pajamas. Drink some
warm milk. Brush teeth. Read a bedtime story. Kiss goodnight. Lights out at
The first wake up was usually around 11:30 p.m. Followed by 1:30 a.m. and
3:30 a.m. And then I would stare at the ceiling until 6 a.m. when my peacefully
sleeping 8-month-old daughter would wake up.
Oh, did you think that was my
baby's nighttime schedule? Nope. It was mine.
This is called postpartum or postnatal insomnia—otherwise known as hell on earth. And it's apparently pretty common, sometimes linked to postpartum depression and sometimes appearing on its own.
When your baby is just a few months old, and you are
horribly sleep-deprived, all you want in life is eight solid hours in your own
bed. Every day you think to yourself, "Dear god, if she would just please sleep
through the night, then I could finally feel like a human being again."
It got to the point where I dreaded bedtime, knowing it would bring another night of watching the clock.
happens when your baby finally does start sleeping through the night, and you
discover that you can't? Suddenly, you are the one waking up every two hours,
unable to fall back asleep—exhausted, frustrated, desperate for rest—while
your baby dreams away happily in her crib. I know, who said motherhood was
In the beginning, I told myself it would pass. I had never
had sleep problems before. I assumed I was just in the habit of waking up
frequently to nurse my daughter. My body would eventually readjust, right? I
dragged myself through the days, struggling with concentration and memory, nervous
every time I got in the car. It got to the point where I dreaded bedtime,
knowing it would bring another night of watching the clock.
As the months went on, I tried a long list of treatments for
insomnia: acupuncture, Chinese herbs, melatonin, exercise, Ambien, vitamins, supplements,
cutting out caffeine, alcohol, sugar, psychotherapy, sleep apnea tests, Benadryl and even medical marijuana. That last one was actually the only thing that brought some
relief, and I joked with my husband about being one of the few people in Los
Angeles actually using medical marijuana for a medical purpose.
But it wasn't a cure. The cocktail of drugs I took every
night did knock me out for a few hours but left me groggy in the morning. The
sleep I was getting was mostly light and not very restful. Whenever my husband
had to go out of town for a day or two, I lived in fear of our child waking up with
some nighttime emergency or illness that I would be too stoned to handle on my
One night when my daughter was about 16 months old, she
woke up crying at 1 a.m. I stumbled into her room in a daze. I sat with her
in the rocking chair, trying to rock her back to sleep while the motion made my
head swim. After a few minutes, she looked up at me, puzzled.
Maybe, just maybe, I'm starting to see a light at the end of the insomnia tunnel.
"Mommy dizzy?" she asked. I could only nod at her. "Go crib," she said. I put her back in her crib, and she rolled over and instantly fell
sleep. I looked down at her enviously. Then I wobbled back up the stairs to my
own bed, vaguely aware that something had to change.
Several months later, I finally ended up in the office of a
cognitive behavioral therapist. While I'm not a stranger to therapy, I had never done CBT
before. CBT for insomnia often involves something called "sleep restriction." This
means limiting the number of hours you spend in bed in order to consolidate and
deepen sleep. The beginning feels like torture. No matter how much sleep you
have had, even if you have been up all night, you still have to get out of bed
and start your day at the same time every morning. Fun, right? The amazing
thing is—it works.
I'm nervous even to write this. But maybe, just maybe, I'm
starting to see a light at the end of the insomnia tunnel. It's been so long
that I can't really remember what it feels like to sleep like a normal person. I'm
tempted to fantasize in the way that some people imagine what their lives would
be like if they lost 50 pounds or won the lottery. Will I suddenly be a
better mom? A better wife? Will I have infinite patience and empathy? Will my
career take a giant leap forward? Will I constantly be filled with joy and
wellbeing? Probably not. But right now my bed is starting to feel like a place
of rest instead of misery. And for that, all I feel is grateful.