Sleep and Mom Brain

The term “mom brain” (also referred to as momnesia, mummy brain, or pregnancy brain) is often thrown around humorously to excuse missed appointments or leaving the house in a pair of slippers, but did you know there is actually some scientific backing to it? Researchers have discovered a range of brain changes that take place when a woman gives birth including alterations in neural plasticity and gray matter. Oftentimes, in addition to seemingly impaired memory, moms may also experience disruptive cognitive symptoms including:

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Trouble focusing on single tasks

  • Misplacing objects (i.e. your phone, keys, etc)

  • Generalized “brain fog”

  • Problems remembering names of common objects, important dates, etc.

How does sleep come into play?
What role does “lack of sleep” play in the presentation of “mom brain” and could that be affecting your day to day functioning? Not getting enough sleep has itself been associated with a range of neurological side effects. A growing body of evidence reveals how brain cells themselves can become sluggish with sleep deprivation and lead to mental lapses in concentration, visual perception, and memory.

Nighttime sleep plays a critical role in allowing your brain the opportunity to create, store, and file away memories from the day as well as giving it time to “clean up,” flushing out toxin buildup and potentially slowing acceleration of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

How can moms get better sleep?
If you’re not getting your 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night, which as a new mom especially can be difficult, you could be putting your own mental health at risk. Don’t miss these quick sleep hints and tricks:

Digital Baby Monitor

If you find yourself constantly checking on your kids sleeping late at night, or even waking in the night to check on them, you may want to consider a digital baby monitor. Technological advancements have transformed baby monitors from clunky walkie-talkies into sleek freestanding cameras which sync live video to your digital devices. Stay in bed and quickly glance at your phone for peace of mind.

Nighttime Self-Care Routine

If you are literally collapsing into bed each night and still having trouble sleeping, it might be time to start forming a routine of self-care rituals that promote better rest. These can involve simple yet effective practices including:

  • Taking a warm bath

  • Listening to soothing music

  • Diffusing calming aromatics (lavender, sandalwood, bergamot, etc.)

  • Giving yourself a quick foot rub with hydrating lotion

  • Journaling about your day

  • Completing a mini restorative yoga session

  • Meditating or practicing deep breathing

Prep Your Environment

The sheer amount of light filling your home even when the lamps are turned off is astounding – microwaves, alarm clocks, refrigerators, air purifiers, and other common devices are often emitting their own light from their digital displays. Prep your sleeping environment by making sure it is as dim as possible in your bedroom (or use sleeping night masks to block out all light). Avoid having the heat on too high as well, your body actually rests better when the ambient temperature is lower around 60 to 67° F according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Ditch the Digital Device

Skimming Instagram or Pinterest on your smartphone may be your go-to activity once you do finally climb into bed, but the blue light it’s emitting could be doing more harm than good. Studies have shown that blue light exposure from devices like these can actually suppress melatonin production in the brain; melatonin is a hormone the body releases to help control sleep and wake cycles. If you have to use your phone (i.e. to check your baby monitor feed) make sure it is set to a “Night shift” or “Night mode” so it emits warmer spectrum light.

Other positive changes which can power longer, stronger sleep include limiting caffeine intake throughout the day, avoiding long naps, and regularly exercising to really wear your body out. While transforming your sleep habits for the better may not reverse your “mom brain,” it can give your memory and other cognitive functions more of a fighting chance each day!

 

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