This Bipolar Life: Enter Sandman

When my sleep schedule is interrupted – even by a little bit – it can upset my entire outlook on the world. I know that sounds dramatic but unfortunately it is all too true.

I give up a lot to get good sleep. In fact I even get some heat when I need to leave a function or get-together early as people without bipolar don’t quite get it. I can understand but for me it’s a serious issue. If I don’t get enough sleep for a few days, say 6 or 7 hours a night instead of 8, it can trigger hypomania (low grade mania) until I get things back on track – and that’s not always easy to do. I try to nap but even that can further deteriorate things as it merely serves to undermine the need for nighttime rest. Too much sleep can be almost as bad as too little. It creates a level of difficulty that I simply don’t need nor want in my life. As a result of all of this I am religious about adhering to my sleep schedule though. If I don’t the impact on my life can be profound.

See, for me mania isn’t something fun, it’s not an opportunity for me to feel “on top of the world” or believe I’m some sort of mythical being as some people have experienced. Instead I just become grumpy, my fuse gets very short, I start new hobbies or projects, and I generally spend too much money – enough that when I feel the it coming on I will hand my wife my debit card, which leaves me feeling like an utter failure as an adult. I mean, what successful person can’t manage their own finances or frustration levels? Me and plenty of other folks with mental illnesses, that’s who. It totally stinks though. It’s certainly not the picture of my life as I’d ever imagined it.

As you can see by the information below, sleep is key for managing many forms of mental illness and bipolar disorder is right up there with the rest of them. In fact there is a lot of research linking sleep disturbance with mood swings throughout the spectrum for people with bipolar disorder. Here is a quick summary from WebMD:

Bipolar disorder may affect sleep in many ways. For example it can lead to:

  • Insomnia, the inability to fall asleep or remain asleep long enough to feel rested.
  • Delayed sleep phase syndrome, a circadian-rhythm sleep disorder resulting in insomnia and daytime sleepiness.
  • REM (rapid  eye movement) sleep abnormalities, which may make  dreamsvery vivid or bizarre.
  • Irregular sleep-wake schedules, which sometimes results from a lifestyle that involves  medication-seeking behaviour at night.

During the lows of bipolar disorder, you may have overwhelming feelings of hopelessness, sadness and worthlessness. These can interfere with your sleep.

During the highs of bipolar disorder (periods of mania), you may be so aroused that you can go for days without sleep. For three in four people with bipolar disorder, sleep problems are the most common signal that a period of mania is about to occur.

Studies have clearly linked good sleep hygiene to positive outcomes for people with bipolar disorder. It is no less important than eating right, exercising, or brushing one’s teeth. In fact, sleep is key to regulating thoughts, emotions, and actions. There is no substitute for a good night’s rest and for those of us who have bipolar disorder it is far too important to ignore.

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