New mum Zoe Paige thought she was nailing this whole parenthood business when her newborn son Hamish began sleeping through the night at six-weeks-old.
Instead, while he started sleeping the 25-year-old found herself wide awake every night when she got into bed. An average night of sleep for her became roughly around one to three hours.
Postpartum insomnia is more common than many women know. Some women struggle to fall asleep initially at night, while others have difficulty staying asleep. For Zoe, it was both.
“Growing up I’ve never had any sleep problems before,” she tells Bounty Parents.
“While I was pregnant, all I wanted to do was sleep but it did get harder as I got bigger. In the first six weeks after my son was born he would wake up but he was still a really good sleeper. He would go to bed at nine o’clock, wake up at midnight for feed, wake at three o’clock and then at six o’clock for a feed. His routine was like clockwork.”
While Hamish slept through the night from six weeks old, Zoe was surviving on only a couple of hours sleep.
Then the holy grail of your child sleeping through the night occured for Zoe at the six week mark but it was the definition of irony as the new mum was getting less sleep than ever before.
“At six weeks he started sleeping through the night but then I found that I wasn’t able to fall asleep and if I did fall asleep I’d wake up really easily and then I’d have trouble falling back asleep again,” she says.
While anxious thoughts can keep many of us awake at night, Zoe says she had no major worries that were stopping her from nodding off.
“When I realised it (my insomnia) was becoming a problem, it wasn’t one thought going through my head, it could have been 20 million different things, like what I need to do tomorrow or it something as stupid as a song stuck in my head. Sometimes I’d feel like my mind was blank but I’d lay there tossing and turning,” she says.
Over seven months Zoe ticked off all the usual sleep easy techniques, like making sure her bedroom was dark and at the right temperature but it was to no avail. She then found that rigorous exercise late at night tired her out enough to sleep.
“To exhaust myself I started to go to the gym. It would get to 10 o’clock at night and I’d still feel really wired so I’d go to the gym and do an hour to an hour-and-a-half of cardio. Then at home I’d have a quick shower, get into bed and I’d be so physically exhausted that I would just eventually fall asleep,” she says.
But, the gym solution of working out until you’re worn out was short-lived for Zoe.
“And then COVID-19 came along and shut gyms down and I can’t go running in the middle of the night. So that ended that.”
Zoe’s next plan of attack for sleep was to wear her brain out.
“I’m a full-time student so I then started to study until my brain couldn’t cope anymore and I’d go to bed that way,” she shrugs.
Zoe would exhaust herself with gym sessions, finally fall asleep and then wake-up early to this little cutie.
Zoe is set to appear on Insight tonight on SBS to talk about sleep hacks.
“My involvement in the show came in as a new mum who suddenly developed sleep problems after my child was born, even though he’s a perfect angel,” she says.
However, since the recording of the show, Zoe reveals she has sought medical advice and postnatal depression is possibly the cause of her insomnia.
“I spoke to my doctor and I’m now seeing a psychologist now for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and we actually discovered that I’m currently going through a major depressive episode,” she tells Bounty Parents.
“I’ve only had one session so far but they’re trying to rule out, if it’s possibly postnatal depression. The hardest part about being a first time mum is that no one prepares you for how isolating it is, especially in those first few months when you’re home with bub,” she says.
As Zoe has never had a problem bonding with her son, the idea that she was going through postnatal depression never occured to her.
“There were times when I felt alone but nothing triggered me to think, ‘I have postnatal depression’ because you hear stories about mums who can’t bond with their baby or they don’t want to get up in the morning and take care of their baby, but he is my number one motivation. No matter how crappy I’m feeling, I’ll get up and be the best mum I can be.”
Zoe says no one prepares you for how isolating it is being a first time mum.
Zoe’s sleep is now improving but she urges anyone with ongoing sleep issues to seek help.
“Last week my psychologist said it was best to go onto an anti-depressant to fix the chemical serotonin imbalance that’s off in my brain. I’ve been managing to sleep for most of the night now which is a relief,” she says.
“To anyone who might be having a similar problem and if you’ve tried all those little things to help you sleep and it’s not working, don’t be afraid to go to your doctor. I regret taking so long to get help. I know it’s not going to be a quick fix but it’s a step in the right direction to finding out why I can’t sleep and I’m on the right path now, I’m not in an endless tunnel.”
You can hear more about Zoe’s story and other sleep hacks tonight on Insight at 8.30pm on SBS.