Bipolar Disorder is a mental health condition which affects a person’s moods, which can swing from one extreme to another without warning. Unlike normal mood swings, each extreme episode of bipolar disorder can last for several weeks, and sometimes longer. While the exact cause of bipolar disorder is unknown, it’s generally thought that a number of things can trigger an episode, including stress, feeling overwhelmed, life-changing events, and even genetic factors.1 Although bipolar disorder affects day-to-day living, sleeping with bipolar disorder can be challenging, too.
Bipolar disorder is fairly common, affecting 1 in every 100 people at some point in their life. It can occur at any age, although it often develops between the ages of 15 and 19, and it’ll rarely develop after 40.2
A good night’s sleep is tricky when sleeping with bipolar disorder, but exactly how is your sleep affected?
How Does Bipolar Disorder Affect Your Sleep?
Sleep problems are incredibly common in people with bipolar disorder, and they can even influence the cycling of the disorder.
People suffering with bipolar disorder may struggle with insomnia. This is a disorder which not only makes it hard to fall asleep, but staying asleep or getting enough sleep is a challenge, too. In those with bipolar disorder, hypomania can often lead to insomnia due to hyperarousal. Hypomania is an abnormally revved-up state of mind that affects your mood, thoughts, and behaviour, and it’s a potential symptom of bipolar disorder. Someone with hypomania can show extreme levels of gaiety, excitement, talkativeness, or irritability and restlessness.3 Therefore, falling asleep is incredibly hard as it can be difficult to switch off your thoughts.
Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder (DSPD) is a common problem that people with bipolar disorder experience. DSPD is when your circadian rhythm is disturbed. The circadian rhythm is basically a 24-hour internal clock that runs in the background of your brain and controls the production of hormones that are released when you need to sleep, or when you need to be awake. Otherwise known as the sleep/ wake cycle, the circadian rhythm is what we rely on to sleep regularly each night, and to get through each day. When this is disturbed, you have a much harder time getting to sleep. You can read more about the circadian rhythm, and how to keep it regular, in our article, ‘An Introduction into Circadian Rhythm’. You can also find out more information about DSPD here.
People with bipolar disorder may also experience abnormalities with Rapid Eye Movement (REM), which could make dreams very vivid or bizarre.4 This could also cause nightmares, which may wake you up during the night. The problem with this is that you might struggle to get back to sleep, especially if you feel intense feelings of fear or anxiety.
When sleep is in short supply, someone with bipolar disorder may not notice the effects in the same way that other people would. However, poor sleep will lead to someone being extremely moody, feeling sick, tired, depressed, or worried, and it can also cause difficulty concentrating or making decisions.5
How Can You Help Yourself Get A Good Night’s Sleep?
Keep a sleep diary. Tracking your sleep can be a good step towards getting better sleep, as you’ll understand your problems better. Note how long it takes you to go to sleep each night, how many times you wake up during the night, and how long you sleep. Adding any medication you take and if you have caffeine, alcohol, or nicotine will help determine why you struggle with sleep. A sleep diary is also good to have when you visit your doctor, as they can get a really good idea of what your sleep is like and how to help you. NHS have created a template to help get you started, which you can find here.
Try to relax. Breathing exercises are a great way to de-stress, while visualising peaceful scenes, like a deserted beach, will also help. You can read more about meditation in our article here. Another way to relax is by practising mindfulness, which is a great way to remove yourself from your worries and focus on the moment. Read more about the benefits in our ‘Mindfulness’ article.
Exercise. Regular exercise is good for both your physical and mental health. It provides an outlet for frustrations and releases mood-enhancing endorphins. Yoga is a great way to reduce any anxiety, too. Limit your workouts to mornings and afternoons. You can read more about how exercise helps improve your sleep in our article, ‘Five Ways Exercise Helps You Sleep’.
Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine. Avoid stimulants like coffee, chocolate, and nicotine before going to sleep. Never watch TV, use the computer, or look at your phone or emails before going to bed. Read a book for an hour before going to sleep.
Have a good sleeping environment. Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet. You could use a fan to drown out excess noise, and check that your mattress and pillows are comfortable. If you can’t sleep after 15 – 20 minutes, get out of bed and go to another room. If you stay in your bed while struggling to fall asleep, your brain will associate your bed with being restless. Removing yourself from your bedroom altogether stops this from happening. Do something relaxing, like listening to soft music or reading, and only go back to bed when you’re feeling sleepy.
Talk to someone. A problem shared is a problem halved. Talking to friends and family gives them a chance to help you, and you may find that speaking about what’s bothering you will help to ease the weight on your mind.
Consider a weighted blanket. The extra weight offered by these blankets can create a sense of security, and they may help calm or comfort restless or stressed individuals. You can browse our selection of weighted blankets here – it’s recommended that you choose one that’s about 10% of your overall weight.
The above tips are ideas for how you can help ease the symptoms of bipolar disorder to get a good sleep. However, the best way to help yourself is to visit your doctor. Consulting your doctor on your sleeping problems and anything that is worrying you will help your doctor find the right solution for you.