Ashley Graham reveals sleep issue: Why do mums struggle to sleep when baby does?

Marie Claire Dorking
·5-min read
New mum Ashley Graham has revealed she's struggling to sleep. (Getty Images)
New mum Ashley Graham has revealed she's struggling to sleep. (Getty Images)

Ashley Graham has revealed she is struggling to sleep, in a confession that will sound all too familiar for many new mums.

Since welcoming her son, Isaac, in January this year, the 32-year-old model has been keeping fans updated on her motherhood journey, covering everything from stretch marks to breastfeeding in posts for her 10.9 million followers.

And now she’s opened up about another relatable topic, sleep... or rather, lack of.

Heading to Twitter the new mum explained that she had just survived a week of sleep training her son, only to find that she now can’t drop off herself.

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Later Graham returned to Twitter to give an update on the sleep situ.

“Well damn, guess I’m never getting good rest,” she wrote. “Even these custom ear plugs, mouth guard, and night mask aren’t helping!”

While it is obviously still early days for Graham, for some new mothers sleepless nights can develop into post-natal or postpartum insomnia.

What is post-natal insomnia?

As all new parents will testify, taking care of a baby can be tiring work, so you’d think it would follow that you’d be able to nod off the minute your head hits the pillow.

But many new mums find themselves joining the #wideawake club despite being desperate to sleep while their baby does.

And according to the National Sleep Foundation this could be a sign of post-natal insomnia.

“Any expectant, or new, mother will be familiar with the advice around rest: ‘sleep when the baby does’. But many mothers will also know just how difficult it is to put that advice into practice,” explains Dr Andrew Iles, consultant psychiatrist at the Priory’s Wellbeing Centre in Oxford.

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Post-natal insomnia impacts many mums. (Getty Images)
Post-natal insomnia impacts many mums. (Getty Images)

Snatching sleep when the baby sleeps is not always easy, due to a whole heap of snooze stealing factors.

“Internal sleep rhythms and parental responsibilities mean that mothers cannot simply opt in and out of sleep at a moment’s notice and the need to retain adult time means that a mother may not wish to miss out on some evening time with their partner,” Dr Iles explains.

“For mothers who have additional burdens including a history of mental illness or new onset problems such as post-natal depression, the barriers to sleep may be more complex.”

According to Dr Iles there are many reasons new mums may find sleep so illusive, including anxiety.

“Preoccupation with intrusive thoughts or obsessional ideas, perhaps about the safety of the baby or her ability as a mother, may keep a mother awake at night,” he explains.

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What can contribute to the problem is the lack of support in the middle of the night, when mothers suffering from post-natal insomnia need it most.

“Many people in a mother’s existing network - a parent, sibling or friend for example - are likely to be asleep, and whilst antenatal groups are often good at forming group chats on platforms such as WhatsApp, a struggling mother may avoid sharing her concerns with other mothers for fear that she will be judged or even belittled,” Dr Iles explains.

But there are things mums can do to remedy sleeping problems.

The first move in tackling post-natal insomnia, according to Dr Iles, is accepting that what you are experiencing is normal and ‘shifting from the idea that you have somehow ‘failed’”. i

“Secondly, I advise mothers to look at their routine,” he says. “Is there anything which can be restructured? Are there any quick wins? For example, does it really matter if all the laundry and ironing is done, can someone else in the house take more responsibility for the day-to-day running of the house, e.g. arranging meals and changing beds?”

Dr Iles also suggests trying to reclaim at least one period of time each week which is just for you, even if this is just a 45-minute walk or a coffee with a friend which does not involve children.

“Exercise may also help,” he adds. “Try to take some exercise; a fast walk with the buggy is still exercise, and a chance to change your environment and to re-focus your mind.”

The National Sleep Foundation says that practicing smart sleep habits can also help new mums get a successful night’s rest.

Keep your room cool, dark, and quiet. Be sure to avoid caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime,” the site says. “And power down all electronics at least an hour before you tuck in.

Some mums struggle to get to sleep when their baby sleeps. (Getty Images)
Some mums struggle to get to sleep when their baby sleeps. (Getty Images)

If insomnia is still keeping you up, don’t just lying there, staring at the ceiling and praying for the arrival of the sleep fairy.

“Get out of bed and read, knit, or do another low-stimulation activity until you’re ready to hit the hay again,” the site suggests.

But if simple changes to your lifestyle do not make much difference to your sleep patterns, do not suffer in silence, seek help.

“Speak to trusted friends or family members,” Dr Iles recommends. “Use the resources around you such as your antenatal group, breastfeeding cafes, Mumsnet, baby groups, and your health visitor. And speak to your GP.

“Family doctors are experienced in helping new mothers. You may find that there are GPs in your surgery who have a specialist interest in antenatal and postnatal care.”

You may also find that your insomnia could be part of a bigger picture.

“Not everyone who has a baby will become depressed but given that 1 in 10 mothers will develop this issue, it is more common than many people realise,” Dr Iles explains.

“Speaking to a professional about your problems will ensure you get the right help. For some people, that may involve referral for talking therapy, medication or being signposted to specialist support groups.”