Bipolar Disorder and Insomnia–And What To Do About Sleep Disturbances

sleep
A sleeping baby. Credit to flickr.com user
Petr Tomasek
. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Unfortunately for many bipolar disorder sufferers, insomnia is a common side effect of the illness–as well as a trigger for manic and depressive episodes. Sleep disturbances not only plague people dealing with mania or depression, but persist between episodes as well. In one study, 55% of bipolar sufferers between episodes met the criteria for insomnia.

For three out of four people with bipolar disorder, sleep deprivation kicks off mania. Close to 65% of bipolar sufferers report insomnia symptoms before entering manic episodes. In some people with bipolar disorder, jet lag can also trigger these episodes.

Some bipolar disorder sufferers may not miss sleep the way other people would. However, lack of sleep can make its presence known. For example, you may:

  • Have increased anxiety
  • Feel sick, depressed, or generally tired
  • Vacillate between moods
  • Have trouble concentrating
  • Find making decisions difficult
  • Take risks
  • Raise your risk for accidental death

Treat the Insomnia

So if sleep is so crucial to managing your mental health, how do you keep yourself from staring at the ceiling all night? Like other symptoms of bipolar disorder, The first recommended step is self-reflection. Try to figure out what’s impacting your sleep, and discuss these issues with your doctor. You may keep a sleep diary, and track the following:

  • How often you wake during the night
  • How often you sleep all night
  • When you take your medication
  • Caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine use
  • How long you take to fall asleep
  • The length and occurrences of exercise

Establish Sleep Hygiene</h@>

Sleep hygiene is your daily practices that are necessary to enjoy a full night of good quality sleep and daytime alertness. Good sleep hygiene is paramount for maintaining your mental and physical health. To improve your sleep, try:

  • Build a calming retreat for your bedroom, including low light, gentle colors, and silence or white noise
  • Stop stimulating activities like computer and television use before bed
  • Exercise regularly, but don’t exercise leading up to bed
  • Establish ironclad bedtimes and wake times, making sure you get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep
  • Don’t drink caffeine or eat sugar right before bed
  • Create a bedtime routine which allows you to wind down before sleeping
  • Limit napping
  • Jot down thoughts that might be keeping you awake
  • Try relaxation tapes or techniques
  • Avoid alcohol right before bed

Final Thoughts

Like many other bipolar disorder symptoms, insomnia can be treated and managed.
Your doctor may prescribe a night in a sleep lab in order to discover your pattern of sleeplessness. Medication may also work for you. Trust your treatment team, and practice good sleep hygiene, and you’ll be on your way to catching those forty winks in no time.

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Author: Cassandra Stout

Hi! My name is Cassandra Stout, and I am a freelancer and memoirist who blogs at The Bipolar Parent (Cassandrastout.com/bpparent) and at the International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF.org). My current project is Committed, my upcoming memoir that depicts my time spent in a psych ward after a postpartum psychotic breakdown. I am a ten-year member of a five-person critique group called the Seattle Scribblers. It's nice to meet you!

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