While people don’t always associate insomnia with bipolar disorder, sleep disturbances can be a common symptom of bipolar disorder. Not only can irregular sleep be a symptom of bipolar disorder, but it can also exacerbate other symptoms. Implementing various lifestyle changes, such as a set bedtime, relaxing nightly rituals, daily exercise, and avoiding screen time before bed, can be helpful in combating insomnia. Working with a licensed therapist in person or through an online therapy platform can also be helpful for addressing insomnia and the symptoms of bipolar disorder.
What Is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder typically 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 this disorder are not currently known, it is theorized that environment, genetics, and an altered brain structure may all play a part.
The treatment for bipolar disorder is often lifelong, as the condition is not usually something that can be "cured". Treatment often involves medication and psychotherapy. Never start or stop any form of medication unless under the guidance of a licensed medical professional.
Specific therapeutic approaches can be used to help with manic and depressive episodes, and a licensed therapist may be able to identify the correct type of therapy for each individual. Research suggests that combining psychotherapy with medication can decrease the burden of symptoms and lower the risk of relapse.
Symptoms Of Bipolar Disorder
There are many potential symptoms of bipolar disorder.
When someone is in a manic phase, they will usually appear to be full of nervous energy. They might talk quickly 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 typically 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,
What About Insomnia And Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder can be associated with 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.
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. Along with seeking treatment for symptoms of bipolar disorder, individuals may need to seek treatment for their insomnia. Sleep aids can be one option, but lifestyle changes may also help with sleep disturbances.
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 usually best to exercise at least two hours before bedtime.
The type of exercise doesn’t necessarily matter, as long as it is at least moderate in intensity and raises the heart rate. Some options can include swimming laps in a pool, partaking in a dance aerobics class, briskly walking around a park, or playing a sport like racquetball.
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 generally 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 normally be avoided.
Reduce Screen Time
Although screens may seemingly be omnipresent in today’s world, individuals should generally do their best to limit screen time before bed. Taking a break from TV, computers, and phones at least an hour before bedtime can help the body prepare for sleep. Instead of turning to screens before bed, some alternative options may include reading a book, completing a jigsaw puzzle, listening to an audiobook, or coloring in an adult coloring book.
Establish Relaxing Rituals
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 available. Therapy can be a way for you to discuss your worries regarding insomnia and bipolar disorder, and it 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 can empower you to connect with a licensed therapist from anywhere you have a strong and stable internet connection, which often 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. In general, online therapy has the same efficacy rate as traditional in-office therapy.
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