These are some words I wrote in April 2013. I was just 8 months a mother and seriously struggling with insomnia. This struggle brought me to discover the profound benefits of yoga nidra to replenish, restore and renew while also building psychological strength. In short: Yoga Nidra, saved my life.
It’s no secret that new parents are sleep deprived and I am no exception. People talk about their babies having "sleep problems", but my story is a little bit different because it’s not only my 8 month old son, Bodhi having ‘sleep problems’ but for the first time in my life I have had to face with my own sleep battle… insomnia.
As a child I was ‘a great sleeper’. My parents tell stories about me as a child taking myself off to bed, falling asleep with my head on the dinner table, sleeping long hours as a teenager and as an adult, my partner T talks of me ‘sleeping for Australia’. I have always needed 10 hours a night to feel refreshed. I love sleep, so much and have never had a problem getting to sleep and staying asleep, until now. Even writing the word sleep, I get a little tickle in my brain, a deep longing for the delicious rest I am so completely starved of.
So, what happened? Well, it all started with having a baby. Babies by nature are notoriously bad sleepers because their REM cycles are shorter and they often wake up between light and deep sleep states. I know this now, but I didn't read anything about baby settling and sleep methods for the first 12 weeks, choosing instead to parent purely on instinct. This mother's instinct involved picking B up when he would cry, wearing him in a sling and breastfeeding him to sleep every day nap and again at dusk, feeding him whenever he appeared hungry and having him sleep in our bed all night long.
By 8 weeks my clever baby was ‘sleeping through the night’ (for babies this means uninterrupted sleep for 6 hours or more). I was so thrilled that my baby was a ‘good’ sleeper and put it down to how secure he must have felt by ‘attached parenting’. But this pattern only lasted until 14 weeks. All of a sudden B started waking every 45-90min, sometimes up to 12 times a night. I would cuddle, feed him and he would go back down quickly (most of the time). But why was he waking so often?? Perhaps it was due to a “Wonder Week” phase of huge neurological development, or a growth spurt making him want to feed more frequently, a gassy digestive system, who knows. Whatever it was I was at it’s whim.
And after three nights of hourly waking. I became an insomniac. While B went back to sleep for his next round of 45min or so, I would stay awake until the next rousing, again and again. The torturous nights dripped away. My mental health deteriorated and I began to fear the dark hours.
My partner T was out of town a lot and I felt completely alone and desperate. And it’s not like the days were any respite because B needed to be held or interacted with constantly. I couldn’t put him down for more than a few minutes without him crying out. He was by all accounts a 'high needs baby'; he was tired, I was tired and his nap times were always on me, in the carrier. I would try to transfer him to his little bed again and again, but he would wake. Sometimes I tried to nap with him side-lying in bed, he would sleep, but I would remain awake, despite being desperately tired.
So, here I was with not only a baby’s sleep issues to grapple with, but now, my own. One of my wise Yoga Mummas said "you’ve got to fit your own oxygen mask before helping others". I realised if I was going to get through any of this, I HAD to help myself get some sleep.
I have learned that sleep comes easiest when the nervous system is calm (so why anyone would let their baby cry to sleep is completely beyond me) and when the body is relaxed and the mind is present. There are now a bunch of things I do in my daily routine to help pave the way for restfulness and sleep and after a 12 week battle with crippling insomnia I have FINALLY broken the cycle.
Here are a few things I tried:
* Jogging, in attempt to exhaust myself before bed (mixed success)
* Chamomile and other sedative teas (lavender, oat flower, passionflower)
* Skullcap (a herb which very noticeably calms the nervous system)
* Magnesium supplement (again to calm the nervous system)
* Not clock watching (it will drive you insane)
* No screens (i got into the habit of reading on my phone in bed, but the light from the screen tricks your brain into thinking it’s time to be awake)
* Focusing on the present, with conscious breathing.
* Trying not to fear for tomorrow and how tired I would be, it can build anxiety which blocks sleep
Yoga nidra is really the only thing that worked. It’s yogic sleep, a conscious, deeply relaxing meditation where you observe your breathing and areas of your body in a particular sequence, helping you to bring your mind into the present for an experience of conscious sleep. It’s hugely effective for reducing anxiety and stress as well as any other condition where you struggle to turn you mind off, such as insomnia. I would sometimes need to listen to the 20min recordings again and again, never more than three times before I fell asleep. But it began to really work for me and overall the yoga nidra has improved the quality of rest I am getting when I sleep and I now I function surprisingly well on 6-8 hours of broken sleep.
Regardless of whether you suffer from insomnia, I think all new mummas should do yoga nidra. A 20 minute session has a similar effect on the brain as 2-3hours of actual sleep! It’s helped me be a more calm, energetic, patient and present mumma.
Got SLEEP ISSUES? ... TAKE ACTION!
READ: 9 Ways to Cope with Sleep Deprivation - article by my friend Julia Jones who is a postpartum doula.