Are You Bipolar? Sleep Habits May Affect The Course Of Your Illness

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It is an accepted fact that people with bipolar disorder experience irregular sleep habits. During a depressed phase, a bipolar manic-depressive might sleep for 14 hours a day and might even find it difficult to get out of bed after sleeping for 15 or more hours. At the same time, during a manic phase, bipolar sufferers often neglect sleep altogether. Often, manic-depressives sleep only two or three hours per night during times of mania.

However, psychiatric research has shown that sleep has a somewhat more complicated role in the progression of an individual’s bipolar disorder than the above-stated facts would seem to indicate. The fact is that the amount of sleep a bipolar patient gets per night can affect his or her mood. As mood swings affect sleep, so can sleep, also, affect mood swings. Ensuring a good night’s sleep can actually prevent undesirable fluctuations of mood.

Several studies have shown a strong correlation between manic and hypomanic episodes in bipolar patients with inadequate amounts of sleep before the onset of trouble. For bipolar sufferers, staying up a few hours to finish a book, or a thrilling philosophical discussions, bears serious consequences. Talmudic students have a tradition of staying up all night to read from the Torah on certain Jewish holidays. For bipolar sufferers, these kinds of traditions are untenable practices.

People with bipolar disorder are somehow very sensitive to any changes in their sleep schedules. The slightest deviation from the normal bedtime can disrupt a bipolar patient’s entire sleep pattern. Sleep pattern disruption, also known as “social rhythm disruption,” routinely happens to normal people as well, of course. However, among persons of normal brain chemistry, social rhythm disruption requires much more severe changes to one’s sleeping habits. These more severe changes include moving to a country in a vastly different time zone, or regularly going to bed five or more hours later than one used to. Among bipolar patients, one hour of sleep skipped one night is enough to trigger social rhythm disruption–and with it, a possible manic or hypomanic episode.

Anecdotal evidence shows that there’s one clear component to regulating the mood swings of someone who is bipolar: sleep, and getting the right kind of it. Manic-depressive patients need to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every night, and never take naps.

Some recent studies have even shown that forcibly changing and regulating patients’ sleep cycles may help prevent the symptoms of rapid cycling bipolar disorder.

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