Anyone who has bipolar disorder is only too aware of how important sleep is to managing their condition. It’s an integral part of bipolar life; bipolar can affect your sleep pattern, and your sleep pattern can affect it in return. It’s a fine balance.
How sleep impacts bipolar differs from person to person however; I can only speak of my experience. For me, sleep is a troop of soldiers which guard the castle of my mind. Even when I’m having a stable time, they’re there, loyal and silently carrying out their duties protecting me from what’s out there in the wild that surrounds the castle.
Whether I’m stable or not, there’s probably allsorts of activity going on out there in the vast dark and foggy woodland that is bipolar. It’s inhabited by the creatures of delusion, depression, obsession, dark and shifting trying to find a weak spot…there’s a tensity in the air created by the quiet, the waiting, the distant rustle of leaves being disturbed by a pending episode. But all of the negative thoughts and symptoms are kept at bay by my infantry and I probably don’t even know about half the battles they fight on my behalf. They do such a good job when they’re well-fuelled with quality sleep.
But what about when they’re not?
When I can’t get any sleep for whatever reason, be it not sticking to my sleep routine, trauma, overdoing it, stress, not complying with my medications, or even seasonal shifts, problems appear.
From the woodland, the negativity begins to creep towards the castle. The sentinels are asleep.
When I haven’t had enough sleep, or good quality sleep, I can’t defend my mind from symptoms. It’s not just things the most people struggle with on a poor night’s slumber such as low energy, struggling to remember things or organise your thoughts, it’s much more. When the portcullis is up and there’s no one guarding the entrance, it’s free reign for my bipolar.
The ghosts of depression can float in, the demons of insomnia can breach the walls, the goblins of hypomania can spring into courtyard; it’s all a possibility. And the things is, once something has made itself comfortable, it’s harder to get it out again.
It can end up turning into a full-scale battle for removal.
I try to catch up on sleep where I can. This isn’t always easy and any shut-eye I manage to get is usually deeply haunted and doesn’t feel restful at all. Sometimes, it can take days of napping to start to feel like I’m recharging the battery and my protectors are coming around again.
As I said earlier, everyone’s experience is different. Some people find it easier to avoid taking naps to “top up” and try to stick to a stringent sleep schedule, no matter what. Others don’t notice too much impact on symptoms even if they have a late night (or an all-nighter if you can pull them!).
In some, insomnia can trigger the start of a manic episode, but in others it can send them on a freefall downwards. But whatever the effect, it is generally accepted that sleep hygeine is something which should be respected by those with bipolar.
Personally, I try to be strict with myself on bedtimes, even if it’s holidays or weekends. I try and take my nighttime medications at the same time every night too, as this ties into my routine and helps my mind settle. I also try not to oversleep too much, even if bed just feels too good to get out of. Sometimes, of course, it can’t be helped. If I do sleep poorly, I take it seriously and try to get myself back on track as quickly as possible.
I take care of my sleep warriors who restlessly protect my mind, along with my medications and other reinforcements I place on the perimiters of the castle, so they take care of me.