Bipolar Insomnia: The Connection Between Bipolar Disorder And Disturbed Sleep Habits

Updated November 24, 2022by BetterHelp Editorial Team

While people don’t always associate insomnia with bipolar disorder, sleep disturbances are a common symptom of bipolar disorder. Not only can irregular sleep be a symptom of bipolar disorder, but it can also exacerbate other symptoms. Keep reading to learn more about the connections between bipolar disorder and insomnia, as well as how to navigate the two.

Are You Living With Insomnia And Bipolar Disorder?

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder characterized by both manic and depressive episodes. These episodes may last for days, weeks, or months.

Bipolar disorder is considered to be relatively common—about 2.8% of adults in the United States are thought to live with this mental illness each year. Bipolar disorder often presents during early adulthood, but symptoms can also appear earlier or later in life.

While the exact causes of it are not known, it is theorized that environment, genetics, as well as an altered brain structure all play a part.

Treatment

The treatment for bipolar disorder is often lifelong, as the condition is not something that can be "cured." Treatment often involves both medications of various kinds as well as psychotherapy.

Specific therapeutic approaches can be used to help with both manic and depressive episodes, and a licensed therapist may be able to help find the correct type of therapy for each individual. Research suggests that combining psychotherapy with medication can decrease the burdens of symptoms and also lower the risk of relapse.

Symptoms Of Bipolar Disorder

There are many potential symptoms of bipolar disorder, both individuals must experience both depressive and manic or hypomanic episodes.

When someone is in a manic phase, they will appear full of nervous energy. They might talk fast and jump from topic to topic. They will probably be very active, and they might feel that they can do many things at once. You may see them start new projects, spend money recklessly, or engage in risky sexual behaviors. They may also use recreational drugs as a way of self-medicating. They will not be able to be pragmatic in their thinking, and they may scoff at you if you try to help them.

If they are in a depressive phase, then they will likely feel depressed, sad, or moody. They may be unable to take joy in any of the activities that would normally interest them, including social experiences. They may forget things or have trouble concentrating.

What About Insomnia And Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder can be associated with both insomnia as well as excessive sleep. Those who have bipolar disorder may experience insomnia either in a manic or a depressive phase, as well as when their mood is stable. Along with experiencing insomnia, individuals may also experience excessive sleep.

Many people understand that insomnia can occur during a manic episode. In fact, 69 to 99% of individuals experience a decreased need for sleep during a manic episode. During these periods, individuals will likely feel energized despite their lack of sleep.

Insomnia, as well as excessive sleep, can occur during depressive episodes. However, unlike with manic episodes, this insomnia is likely to occur with feelings of tiredness.

Individuals living with bipolar disorder may also experience insomnia when their moods are stable. Some research suggests that sleep disturbance may be a marker for the onset of bipolar disorder in children. Additionally, a decreased need for sleep may help professionals distinguish bipolar disorder from other mental illnesses.

Treatment For Insomnia And Bipolar Disorder

As mentioned above, insomnia can be both the cause of and a symptom of manic and depressive episodes. So along with seeking treatment for symptoms of bipolar disorder, individuals may need to seek treatment for their insomnia. Sleep aids are one option, but lifestyle changes may also help with sleep disturbances.

Exercise

Exercising may help individuals combat insomnia. At least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity may help with sleep. However, since exercise can also release endorphins that may prevent sleep, it’s best to exercise at least two hours before bedtime.

The type of exercise doesn’t matter, as long as it is at least moderate in intensity and raises heartrate. Some options include swimming laps in a pool, partaking in a dance aerobics class, briskly walking around a park, or playing a sport like racquetball.

Are You Living With Insomnia And Bipolar Disorder?

Have A Set Bedtime

It may also be helpful to go to bed at the same time each night. If an individual goes to bed at 9 PM one night and midnight the next, it can be difficult for their body to understand when it is supposed to wind down.

Along with going to bed at the same time, individuals should try to get up each morning at approximately the same time as well. Sleeping in an extra hour on the weekends is likely fine, but any more than that should be avoided.

Reduce Screen Time

Although screens are seemingly omnipresent in today’s world, individuals should do their best to limit screen time before bed. Taking a break from TV, computers, and phones at least an hour before bedtime may help the body prepare for sleep. Instead of turning to screens before bed, some alternative options include reading a book, completing a jigsaw puzzle, listening to an audiobook, or coloring in an adult coloring book.

Establish Relaxing Rituals

Part of falling asleep is training one’s mind to be less active, and calming nighttime rituals may help with this. Some options include taking a warm bath, enjoying a cup of herbal tea, or completing a slow yoga flow.

Seeking Help For Insomnia And Bipolar Disorder

Insomnia can be frustrating, especially when you feel like you’ve taken steps to improve your sleep. While it may feel like you will never be able to sleep normally again, help is out there. Therapy can be a way for you to discuss your worries regarding insomnia and bipolar disorder and can also help you figure out ways to manage your symptoms. However, if you’re sleep-deprived, you may find it difficult to meet with a therapist in person. Online therapy allows you to connect with a licensed therapist from anywhere you have a strong and stable internet connection, which makes therapy more accessible.

Online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may help individuals living with insomnia improve their sleep. By working with a therapist to recognize and change negative thought patterns, you may be able to decrease your insomnia.

Takeaway

Insomnia and bipolar disorder often occur together. Sometimes insomnia can be a sign of bipolar disorder, and sometimes insomnia can exacerbate the symptoms of bipolar disorder. Working with professionals to manage both insomnia and bipolar disorder can result in an improved quality of life.

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