Before I became a mom, I could easily sleep 9-10 hours a night. No matter how stressful my day or my life was at any given time, sleep wasn’t an issue. During my first pregnancy with my son Narayan, now 5, everything changed.
Early on in the pregnancy, I’d wake up in the middle of the night, my heart racing –
After I gave birth, the sleep deprivation got worse. I went from sleeping 5-6 hours a night to 2-3 if I was lucky. If I wasn’t taking care of Narayan, I was working, and I refused to nap because I could never manage to fall asleep before he woke up anyway. I rationalized that if I could get things done while he slept, I could be more present when he was awake.
Fast-forward a year and a half and I was consistently sleeping 4-5 hours each night, struggled to get dressed everyday and rarely left the house. I was overwhelmed with life, fighting major depression and anxiety, all while completely unaware that these issues were a real problem, and had taken over my existence. I also found myself forgetting things, a lot. According to the people closest to me, I was constantly saying “I don’t remember,” and always asking the same questions over and over.
By the time Narayan turned 2, I had sought help from a therapist who quickly recommended I see a psychiatrist who could prescribe medication to help regulate my mood, motivate me to get out of the house, and help with my quality of sleep.
After just 2 sessions, the Psychiatrist said I was probably suffering from bipolarism and agoraphobia. I explained that I had never had these issues prior to not getting enough sleep, but he insisted I try medication to help my mood and quality of sleep.
I took the antidepressant in hopes of finding a way out of the dark place I felt stuck in for almost 3 years. But it only made things worse.
After 6 months trying to adjust the dosage without any positive results, I took myself off the medication against my Psychiatrist’s advice. I started taking Benadryl, recommended by my general doc, to help with sleep. Dave took over night duties with Narayan, who was still not sleeping through the night. I started sleeping 7 hours a night and finally felt like I had my life back! My mood improved, the depression and anxiety seemed to slip away like it was never there.
Over time though, the Benadryl stopped working. I could fall asleep easily, but would wake up in the middle of the night once again, with major anxiety, lying awake for 4+ hours at a time most nights.
I spoke to my general doctor, who said I could increase the dosage to 75 mg per day. Once again I was able to sleep and things seemed back to normal.
In early 2017, Dave and I decided to try for another baby. I was excited, but worried the pregnancy would bring my sleep issues back to fruition. I was still taking Benadryl and didn’t want to risk stopping, in fear of the sleep deprivation returning.
When I got a positive pregnancy result, My OBGYN and general physician had a meeting and decided it was okay for me to stay on the Benadryl. There were no studies proving it would effect the baby, so I kept taking it, and was able to sleep relatively well throughout the entire pregnancy.
After giving birth though, I was exactly where I started almost 4 years ago, but this time around I was taking 75 mg of Benadryl and still unable to sleep. Since the Benadryl wasn’t working, I stopped taking it altogether, only to find myself depressed and anxious all over again, now a mother of 2 with a full home and work load.
I had a long talk with Dave, explaining that I didn’t want to see a therapist or psychiatrist, only to be put on medication that could make things worse.
A few months went by, we established a sleep routine for both the kids, and we were all sleeping much, much better! I was taking 75 mg of Bendaryl again each night, which only seemed to help me get back to sleep if I woke up in the middle of the night — not an issue though, since I could fall asleep easily on my own, but I knew it was only a temporary solution, like it had always been.
Right around the time Minnie turned 1 in December of 2018, I felt as if I had finally gotten my sleep issues under control. I was sleeping 6-7 hours most nights and I almost felt like myself again. However, I found myself slipping back into old patterns, forgetting things, asking the same questions over and over… And once Saturday rolled around each week, I was exhausted to the point that I would sleep most of the day and be completely out of it, unable to physically get out of bed or off the couch once I was finally awake.
I spoke to my doctor, who immediately ordered blood work. All my results were normal, some amazingly good, so she consulted a sleep specialist concerning my history with sleep deprivation. They came to the conclusion that although I was getting enough sleep, I wasn’t getting enough REM or deep sleep, if at all. Which could explain the terrible memory and weekly crashes I was experiencing. Without quality sleep, my brain and body were trying to catch up after going several days without experiencing normal stages of sleep.
They recommended I slowly taper off of Benadryl and see a therapist to talk through the reasons why I had developed sleep deprivation in the first place. But I already knew why — my relationship with worry that turned into full blown anxiety began the moment I became a mom and life got overwhelming. That worry and anxiety kept me up at night for over 3 years, which resulted in sleep deprivation I didn’t know I had, which led to depression and anxiety that doctor’s didn’t recognize was from sleep deprivation in the first place, which led me to medication to help with sleep, which led me to spouts of memory loss and now very poor quality of sleep.
I took a week to consider my options, and decided I wasn’t going to seek help. No one was truly going to help me get off of medication and start sleeping normally, other than myself. I knew that I needed to do the work to come to terms with all the things that had gotten me to where I was in the first place.
I looked up meditation apps and came across one that resonated, called Head Space. I immediately downloaded it and went to bed that night without Benadryl. Dave was worried I would spiral and things would get worse. But I stuck to the sleep techniques, along with skills teaching me how to deal with worry and anxiety, and I created a solid nighttime routine.
Here I am today, after over 6 years battling sleep deprivation and insomnia, practicing meditation as part of my daily self-care, getting quality sleep without a sleep aid.
It’s only been a few weeks, but I’m proud of myself for sticking it through and really taking the time to address this issue once and for all.
It’s amazing how much we often put ourselves through, doing the bare minimum before getting to the breaking point, only to start from scratch again before realizing we could’ve invested the time from the very beginning and possibly avoided the hurt and the pain in the first place. BUT we’re only human, and life is about learning, right?!
If my experience helps just one person from going through what I did, it was worth sharing.