Sleep is restorative. It heals us. It grants our brains and bodies needed downtime for recovery from the stress and demands of our waking hours. Our circadian rhythms (our sleep/wake cycles) regulate core components of our human selves. And beyond all of sleep’s mechanical importance to our bodies, a good night’s sleep feels amazing; it is a gift to drift off to sleep easily and to awaken refreshed.
Manic episodes disrupt sleep/wake cycles — our internal clocks. When you experience a manic episode, you typically need little to no sleep for days at a time. These sustained sleepless periods rob you of the healing and peaceful benefits of sleep. Bodies, brains, and lives suffer as a result.
Unfortunately, in our busy world, prioritizing sleep may be associated with weakness. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” means that a person is super productive and getting everything they can out of life. This myth is dangerous for all humans, but it carries particular risks in bipolar disorder. Sleepless people make more mistakes and get into more car accidents. Sleep deprivation increases obesity and other metabolic disorders. And for people living with bipolar disorder sleep deprivation carries a very high risk of triggering mania or mixed episodes.
Managing bipolar disorder and reducing the likelihood of manic episodes requires taking good care of your sleep. It is just as important as taking your medication regularly.
Protecting sleep requires some planning and strategizing. Following are the do’s and don’ts of getting the right quantity and quality of sleep followed by a few additional techniques you can try.
- Try to get to sleep and wake up around the same time every day.
- Sleep at least seven hours per night — most people need more.
- Allow some “de-stim” time before bed without close-up screens like phones and computers. (The light from such screens stimulates the brain.)
- Take any sleep medications as prescribed and when prescribed.
- Keep the room a comfortable temperature for you.
- Darken the room as much as possible.
- Drink caffeine after mid-day.
- Take stimulant related medications or other substances after mid-day.
- Exercise vigorously within a couple hours of bedtime.
- Drink alcohol right before bed — it helps you fall asleep but then you wake up a few hours later.
- Use your bedroom for anything other than sleep and sex.
- Use a meditation or relaxation app for a few minutes before resting.
- Recruit people you live with or sleep with to help with your sleep goals.
- Reduce high stimulus content before bed, such as the news or intense conversations.
- Stop any work-related activities at least an hour before bedtime.
- Read or listen to audio books to help you drift off to sleep.
If you are struggling to maintain a regular sleep pattern, or you notice any sustained changes in your sleep such as needing a lot more or a lot less sleep, speak to your doctor and therapist about this so you can work on solutions.
Tip: CBT-i Coach is a Cognitive Based Therapy (CBT) sleep management app created by the Veterans Administration that teaches about sleep and offers some specific cognitive behavioral strategies to reduce insomnia. It is free, and anyone can use it. Try it out yourself or ask your doctor or therapist to look at it with you. You can find CBT-i Coach on the iTunes or Google Play app store.