Ok, ok, I know…you’re probably like, but Hilliary aren’t YOU a sleep perfectionist? Aren’t you always telling us how amazing our children’s sleep can be?
Well, yes, I do say that…and it CAN, but there is a difference between having a baby who sleeps well, and consistently, and being a sleep perfectionist.
While sleep perfectionism isn’t a formal mental health diagnosis, it often does go hand in hand with Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. And, it is a phenomenon that many moms experience on their motherhood journey.
It is different from wanting your baby to sleep well (we all want that!).
Perfectionism, in and of itself, according to Brene Brown, is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: “If I look perfect and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of blame, judgment, or shame.
So, if we apply that same definition to baby’s sleep, then…
A mom measures how well she is doing by how well her baby is sleeping.
If your baby sleeps well, you’re doing a good job. If not, then you’re doing a bad job.
Often feels guilt or shame if one mom talks about their baby being a good sleeper- wonders, “what am I doing wrong?”
For someone with sleep perfectionism, when it comes to their baby’s sleep, even if consciously they know that they can’t 100% control their baby’s sleep, they take the blame themself and have this subconscious belief that is deeply rooted that, “if I don’t do well, it’s my fault.”
There are a few common traits among mamas who are sleep perfectionists:
Excessive tracking of baby’s sleep. Now, anyone who has worked with me knows that I ask you to track baby’s sleep quite detailed while we are teaching them to sleep well, but that doesn’t mean you need to track that level of detail or that excessively ALL the time. Yes it’s important while actively sleep training, but tracking outside of that or outside of when a new pattern or sleep issue emerges for your child, can actually increase your anxiety around your child’s sleep.
Obsessively researching tips and tricks. Whether you follow 146 sleep consultant’s Instagram accounts, spend hours on Google each week researching your baby’s sleep, or have your sleep consultant on speed dial after working together a year ago, sometimes that much data is too much data…and again, increases your anxiety around your child’s sleep. Don’t get me wrong, researching is helpful….getting support from your sleep consultant even after your initial sleep training can be a gamechanger in keeping on track, but there’s a difference between that and obsessively researching.
You blame yourself for the baby's “bad sleep.” You are constantly criticizing yourself for doing or not doing certain things.
You may feel embarrassed or like you’re failing when someone asks you how your baby is sleeping.
You have monitor anxiety. Monitors are great and they make all of us feel safer having a baby. But, spending the entirety of your baby’s nap checking the monitor 147 times, or keeping it next your bed on full volume, isn’t doing anything good for you! Yes, most of us feel any anxiety we have aroudn baby and sleep reduce when we check the monitor, but it’s deceiving. It’s really only short term relief, but actually exacerbates our long-term anxiety, leading us to do this cycle again, and again, and again.
Anyone can experience sleep perfectionism, but you may be at higher risk if you are generally a perfectionist/Type A/ “control freak,” experienced birth trauma, have Postpartum Depression or Anxiety (and sleep perfectionism can actually be a sign of Postpartum Anxiety), and/or have a personal family history of depression, anxiety, or trauma.
Perfectionism and anxiety get worse in times of stress, vulnerability, and times when we feel like we don’t have control. Can you think of a more vulnerable, stressful time in your life when you don’t have a lo of control other than the first year after having a baby (especially after your first!)?
Having a baby means losing control of pretty much everything. This lack of control can cause a powerless feeling…which is at the core of anxiety. Obsessively tracking baby’s sleep and resarching and arming ourselves with information can make us feel like we’re in control. Not letting our partner put the baby down makes us feel like we are in control.
We all feel some of this, some of the time, but for mamas who experience sleep perfectionism, the amount of anxiety a mama feels is independent of how well her baby is sleeping.
So, what do you do about it?
When you graduate from sleep training, stop tracking! If you notice a sleep issue emerge, look for patterns of that disruption. I’m talking a few days a week for 1+ weeks. If it hasn’t resolved on its own, track for 1-2 weeks so you have a baseline of this new pattern.
Choose your favorite 1-2 sleep accounts to follow on Instagram. Or, if you already have a sleep consultant, no need to spend any time on social media or Google…you already have your expert when you need them.
Pick 3-4 mantras to help retrain your brain, such as, “I am a good mom no matter how well my baby sleeps,” or “I’m doing the best I can, my baby is a human being and I cannot 100% control her. Write this out on a Post It note or index card and hang it on your bathroom mirror.
Practice some deep breathing exercises or meditation practices for times of increased stress and anxiety.
Stop obsessing over the monitor! Remember, the more you look at the monitor, the more you will look at the monitor. Try scheduling in specific activities to do something for yourself over nap time, not check the monitor 27 times in those 90 mins. But don’t feel like you have to go from 147 checks/nap to 0. Next nap, try reducing the number of times you let yourself check the monitor by 3-5 checks. Then do that again each subsequent nap. You’ll slowly work yourself down.
At the end of the day, don’t be afraid to reach out for help and support! A sleep consultant, a mental health therapist, or a tribe of your best girlfriends…whatever you need is just right for you. You are not alone.
I’ve definitely had stages of my life where I’ve been a sleep perfectionist, and trust me, I want as amazing of sleep for my own children and all of yours as you do. Yes, consistency is important. Yes, babies need sleep and benefit from “good sleep,” but it doesn’t need to rule your life. One bad nap does not need to ruin the rest of your day. Your child napping should give you some downtime to do as you please, not freeze doing nothing while you stare at the monitor.
You are doing the best you can. You are doing a great job. You are an amazing mama.
Schedule your complimentary sleep evaluation call now to learn how to say goodbye to being a sleep perfectionist.