How Do I Solve Bipolar Insomnia?

Reviewed by Laura Angers, LPC

Published 12/11/2020

Dealing with insomnia can be one of the toughest parts of bipolar disorder. Though it can be difficult to establish a solid sleep schedule, it is impossible to do so with bipolar disorder. This article can give you some great tips and suggestions on how to begin to have a disciplined sleep while also showing insomnia’s place in the larger struggle of bipolar disorder. Read on, and there will be something useful in this article for anybody dealing with bipolar insomnia. 

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Insomnia And Bipolar Disorder Episodes

Insomnia can be one of many symptoms that come with bipolar disorder. Before this article specifically tackles insomnia, here are some basic facts about bipolar. Basic background facts are crucial because treating one symptom or episode can go right along with insomnia. 

Bipolar disorder is defined by the unusual episodes of highs and lows that bipolar patients have. These ups and downs are referred to as mania and depression. There are also mixed episodes that occur when bipolar patients have manic and depressed episodes simultaneously. 

Insomnia is extremely common in depression and mania. This study estimates that insomnia is almost certain to happen in both mania and depression. If you are dealing with terrible insomnia and have bipolar disorder, there is an increased likelihood that you are dealing with a bipolar episode. Below are symptoms associated with bipolar episodes and insomnia indirectly. 

Mania symptoms include: 

  • Elevated, expansive, or irritable mood.
  • Increased energy, agitation.
  • Lessened need for sleep. Energy levels stay similar or are raised despite the lack of sleep in mania. 
  • Forced speech. This is the difficulty of stopping talking. 
  • Uncontrollable, racing thoughts.
  • Unable to focus.
  •  
  • Symptoms last for at least a week, or hospitalization is required. 

Depression symptoms include:

  • Depressed mood. This can be defined as a general sadness. 
  • This is a loss of interest and/or pleasure. 
  • Weight loss. This does not include deliberate weight loss. 
  • Sleep problems. This can include insomnia and hypersomnia. 
  • Loss of energy.
  • Loss of concentration.
  • Suicidal thoughts. 
  • Symptoms last for two weeks. 
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Insomnia And Types Of Bipolar Disorder

There are three main types of bipolar disorder. Bipolar I has mania, which can keep the sufferer awake for days at a time. Bipolar II has a milder form of hypomania, which can still be dangerous but less extreme. Cyclothymia is a milder form of bipolar disorder, but insomnia can still present itself. 

Lastly, if you are curious about whether or not you have bipolar disorder, check out a free diagnostic test here: https://www.mind-diagnostics.org/bipolar_disorder-test. The test may help you to take the first steps towards a calmer mind. It is free and easy.

Sleep Problems With Bipolar Other Than Insomnia

In addition to insomnia, you may deal with a few types of sleep problems. While insomnia is defined as having issues with falling and/or staying asleep, people with bipolar disorder can host other issues regarding sleep. One of the most common is the link between insomnia and the decreased need for sleep in mania. It is hard to address one without addressing the other. 

Other sleep issues present with bipolar disorder include hypersomnia, REM issues, medication issues, distorted sleep schedule, substance abuse problems, and sleep apnea.

It is important to be aware of these general sleep issues for treating insomnia. You do not want to fix one problem only to have to deal with the other. Also, sleep problems are often connected. 

For example, you may need to work on waking up at a reasonable hour (hypersomnia), cut back on recreational substance use, and request a medication adjustment to solve your problems with insomnia. The good news is that working on one sleep problem may help several other problems. By waking up at regular times and dealing with hypersomnia, moderating your recreational substance use, and working with your doctor, you would probably be able to indirectly improve your insomnia. Below are a few examples of sleep issues that can happen with bipolar disorder. 

Hypersomnia is almost the opposite of insomnia. While people with insomnia struggle to fall and stay asleep, strugglers with hypersomnia have a hard time staying awake without incessant drowsiness. Many people who deal with insomnia will also struggle with hypersomnia at other times, as the two can often affect the other. 

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REM issues could have a number of causes from medications, episodes, lifestyle, etc., but REM issues seem to happen more often in people with bipolar disorder. REM problems come off as strange, intense, and/or disturbing dreams, aka nightmares. They are the sort of dreams that wake you up in the middle of the night or disturb your sleep, and you may keep thinking about them during the day. 

If you have questions about medications and how they may be impacting your sleep, please speak with your doctor. Medications are well known to sometimes affect sleep, but be safe and speak with a professional before making changes.

As will be discussed later, keeping a consistent sleep schedule will help with insomnia. Part of your current problem may be that your sleep schedule is out of whack. 

Legal and illegal recreational substances can greatly affect your sleep patterns. Consider cutting back or stopping if drugs or alcohol are impacting your sleep too much. 

One-third of people with bipolar disorder may suffer from sleep apnea. This can cause extreme distress in your sleep hygiene. 

Solutions To Bipolar Insomnia

As illustrated above, one of the most important parts of solving bipolar insomnia is to look at the problems from a holistic point of view. The chances are that your insomnia is connected to depression and/or mania, and your insomnia comes along with another sleep problem. Therefore, it would most likely be difficult to address key insomnia issues without touching on bipolar disorder and sleep as a whole. 

For the average bipolar patient, some of the best tips for bipolar insomnia may be to take the disease seriously. Taking medication, going to therapy, moderating substance use, and pursuing other physical traits like diet and exercise can play a huge role in moderating sleep. While the next section goes over some specific tips for solving bipolar insomnia, the best solutions are often your day to day doctor and therapist recommendations. 

Tips For Bipolar Insomnia

The specific tips for bipolar insomnia are almost always identical to the tips for insomnia for anybody else. 

First and foremost, the best tip is to go to bed and get out of bed at the same time every day. In tackling insomnia, consistency is your best friend. This tip may be extremely hard to enact at first because you may be lying in bed late at night and waking up early for a few days in a row. However, your body should respond by adjusting to the schedule and helping you to fall asleep earlier every day. Please mention your plans to your doctor to correct your sleep schedule, especially if it decreases your sleep too much. 

Napping is now your mortal enemy. Many people with insomnia will be up late, get too little sleep, and then, unfortunately, fall asleep for a few hours in the middle of the next day. This can be horrible for your sleep schedule. It throws your brain off balance, confusing night and day. This is especially true if you sleep for a few hours at a time. If you really must nap, try to keep it to under one hour. 

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No more screens at night! This tip may be very difficult for some people because they love scrolling their screens late into the night. The light from the screens is proven to be bad for your ability to sleep. From now on, leave the phone out of your bedroom, and you will benefit from healthier sleep. 

Limit your bed to sleep and sex. In line with the above, try to spend less time relaxing on your bed. In addition to screen time, try to limit any time spent talking, reading, or lounging on your bed. You want your body to associate your bed with sleep. By keeping your bed to sleep and sex, you may be able to train your body to respond to your bed in a certain way. 

If you can limit the number of large meals just before bed, you may sleep better for it. Within a few hours of your bedtime, try to avoid big meals. They may keep you tossing and turning late into the night.

If you cannot fall asleep for a while, try getting up instead of tossing and turning. After 15-30 minutes, which is the general recommendation, try getting out of bed for a little while. You can make yourself a cup of tea or something relaxing, and you could read a book or sit quietly. Remember, try to avoid screens altogether. 

Conclusion

Fighting bipolar insomnia can often be a holistic struggle. Defending against insomnia can include managing symptoms, weathering and preventing episodes, and tackling other sleep issues associated with bipolar disorder. When you are ready, try one of the several methods for battling insomnia. They are researched, tried, and true.