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Night Dread

And some ways to sleep better with a newborn.....

“I just feel the dread creep in at bedtime”. This is what a client said to me this week. And I remember the feeling so well. I would tick along (albeit exhausted) in the day, but the night would come and I would almost dread going to bed. The feeling of the darkness (emotional) that would come over me as I crept under my duvet next to my baby. Knowing that a whole 'shift' lay before me and that, despite how desperate I was for sleep, at some point I would be woken, making me not want to even bother going to sleep at all.

Sometimes my low midnight mood would actually scare me. But, somehow, as soon as the sun came up, I didn’t feel quite so bad. So what’s this all about and what can you do about it?

The cause is not JUST that being woken up repeatedly in the night is really shit and gets shitter for a while before it gets better (although, admittedly, that’s a pretty large part of it). A lot of this ‘dread’, like many things, is all down to hormones. Our awake/sleep patterns (also known as Circadian Rhythm if you want to get fancy) run on Serotonin and Melatonin. They are literally day and night in terms their function and uses. Serotonin is all boingy and awake and full of beans. Melatonin is sloth-like, woozy and always up for a nap. Or 10. They need to work together, in balance, to make us function.

When we are woken in the night repeatedly or fall out of our rhythm (e.g. jet lag) we are forced into what is known as Circadian Dyssynchrony. Essentially our biological clock is all out of whack. In an ideal night world full of zeds, our Serotonin drops to allow our Melatonin to take over (think balancing scales). We don’t need to feel boingy and happy at night. Unless we are repeatedly woken up by a baby, and then a little of the good stuff would be awesome. But, similarly, if our Melatonin isn’t high enough, then even when baby sleeps, we might be left wondering how we can be so tired and STILL so awake. And without necessary recovery and reset time (i.e. good quality sleep), this can turn into a cycle of torture all of it's own, separate even from our baby's (often very normal, I have to add) sleep patterns.

Keep this cycle going and it can be a contributory factor to the triggering of postnatal depression and anxiety. It can certainly make the whole situation feel much worse and unmanageable.

So, here are my top tips to getting some better sleep, even when you have a little person to attend to in the wee small hours:-

CUP OF JOE Even though you’re tired, so tired, try and keep off the caffeine. Not only will it stimulate you long after you have finished your cup (up to 8 hours!), if you’re breastfeeding it may stimulate baby too.

BE SMART Try and ditch your smart phone to check the time of feeds or fiddle on before bed. We know that looking at a smart phone within half an hour before bed reduces your Melatonin by 50%.

SLEEP BANK Go to bed early. REALLY early. The more sleep you can ‘bank’ the better your serotonin levels will be the next day.

BOOBS Research has shown that breastfeeding/co-sleeping mothers have the best quality sleep and more hours. Breastfeeding enhances Melatonin and Serotonin levels and, if you can master the art of feeding lying down, you barely even have to move from the comfy spot in bed.

FRESH Go outside at least once a day. Daylight and fresh air boosts Serotonin and Melatonin levels.

YOGA Try and do some gentle yoga for just a few minutes before bed or do some breathing exercises. Viparita Karani – legs up the wall pose, can really relax you before turning in. As can alternate nostril breath or Brahmaree Pranayama (humming breath).

MEDIATATE TO SEDATE Solo meditation can be quite challenging if you’re feeling anxious. Nikki’s Ten of Zen 10 minute guided meditations are an amazing tool for a short, manageable burst of zen. Visit her zen-filled free library at

Lastly, please know that you are NOT alone, even though sometimes at 2am you might feel it. Many of us have been there and lived to tell the tale. You’re doing great, mama.


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