Good Night of Sleep Becoming Unattainable Dream for Moms

Image credit: Johan Svenson

Kristen Kemp says that after her three children were born,  she had difficulty falling asleep  – a  problem she’d had since her 20s. But after she had children, it got worse.

“I can’t fall asleep. My mind starts racing,” the freelance writer told ABC News today. “I’m worried about not sleeping. Worried about worrying. … All this marinates in my mind from 9 [p.m.] to 1 a.m.”

To cope with her insomnia, the Montclair, N.J., mother of 6-year-old twin girls  and a 4-year-old boy,  said she had taken the anti-anxiety pill Klonopin for the past four years.  Kemp said she had tried different sleep aids, but Klonopin was the only one that worked.

A 2007 study by the National Sleep Foundation found that nearly three in 10 U.S. women said they used a sleep aid a few nights a week. Experts said that stress and anxiety had made mothers dependent on sleep aids like Lunesta, melatonin, Ambien and even Xanax.

According to IMS Health, a Connecticut health care consulting firm, more than 15 million U.S. women between the ages of  40 and 59 got a prescription last year to help them sleep — mostly for Ambien — nearly twice the number for men in the same age group.

“Women today have a dual role in society,” said Dr. Shelby Harris, director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at Montefiore Medical Center. “A lot of the times, they’re working, [and] they’re also coming home and taking care of their family, so there is a lot on their plate when they get home at night.”

Emily Bauer said that before she had children, she had tried Ambien but it didn’t help her. The Millburn, N.J., mom said she hadn’t had a good night’s rest since her oldest child was born.

“I’m always plugged in. … There’s always things to be done,” the single mother told ABC News.  “I’ve found myself waking up in the middle of the night. I’ve been known to respond to emails at 2 a.m., 3 a.m., the witching hour.

“I wake up in the middle of the night and am not be able to fall asleep. … I think it’s the status quo. I think mothers who work definitely have trouble leaving work time,” said Bauer, who does voice-overs and owns a business.

Bauer said doctors advised her to try melatonin but she opted not to. “I’m going to be too drowsy in the morning,” she said.

Last weekend, Kemp said she’d tried to go to bed without taking Klonopin to no avail. “I wanted to sleep on my own,” she said.

Kemp said she’d worried that taking the pills had made it harder to get out of bed the in the morning and that the pills had dulled her creativity.

“On the nights I try to wean myself of the stuff, I lie awake paying for it,” said Kemp, who wrote about her reliance on a sleep aid on her blog Barista Kids  after seeing a New York Times article about it this weekend.

She told ABC News that she’d received emails and comments to her post from other mothers dealing with the same issue.

“The [Times] article made me feel less alone,” she said. “That made me feel better.”

Montefiore’s Harris advised mothers and others to try these seven tips to conquer  insomnia before seeking out medication.

  1. Set priorities for the to-do list. Leave the dishes in the sink and just clean off the kitchen table. All the chores don’t have to be done before you go to bed.
  2. Give yourself a half-hour to an hour to wind down and relax.
  3. One hour before bedtime, make a list of things that need to be done the following day so you’re not brooding over them as you attempt to fall asleep.
  4. Limit screen time. Put away the BlackBerry and the computer.
  5. Get out of bed if you can’t sleep.
  6. Exercise can help you get a good night’s rest.
  7. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.

Harris said that if these tips didn’t work, talk to your doctor about seeing a sleep specialist.