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Good night sleep plays an important role in our physical and mental health. Sleep deficiency is proven to trigger the symptoms of hypomania and mania.

A healthy person spends about one third of their life sleeping. During sleep, the brain gets rid of toxins that accumulate while we’re awake. Sleep is crucial for all vital organs to work properly, and improves immune function as well as mood. Chronic insomnia is linked to an increased risk of stroke, heart and kidney problems, diabetes, hypertension, and some mental health problems.

How lack of sleep affects bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is a serious and recurring disease that affects more than five million people in the United States alone, and will affect between one and four percent of people sometime during their lifetime.

Changes in sleeping habits — such as sleeplessness, insomnia, or a sudden desire to sleep too much — are commonly considered to be warning signs of an approaching bipolar episode. Dysfunctional sleep in combination with bipolar disorder can further worsen the two hallmarks of the illness — depressive and manic episodes. Sleepiness is often connected to depressive phases, and insomnia linked to mania. 

Bipolar disorder messes up a person's circadian rhythm, the primary sleep-wake pattern set by the pineal gland in the brain that naturally responds to light-to-dark as well as seasonal changes. Learning how to reset this natural rhythm can ease the symptoms of the illness, and avoid further problems such as relapses or hospitalizations.

According to researchers from the University of Michigan and Penn State College of Medicine, poor sleeping habits are strongly linked to negative mood in people with bipolar disorder, especially women. Apparently, men and women experience bipolar disorder differently. While women go through longer and more frequent episodes with number of co-occurring conditions like eating disorders, migraines, as well as anxiety, men have shorter and less intense episodes, and don’t react to poor sleep as badly as women. Men are less likely to experience insomnia-related mood disturbances and emotion dysregulation when compared to women.

Many studies suggest that bad sleeping habits can trigger hypomanic and manic episodes, and it’s a vicious cycle because insomnia only gets worse and more intense during the manic phase. Lack of sleep can also lead to relapse. There’s strong evidence that insomnia leads to psychotic feelings such as delusions or hallucinations.

Lack of sleep and mental health

Between 50 and 80 percent of psychiatric patients suffer from sleep disorders.  These issues are most common among people with major depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Studies on mice showed that lack of sleep causes microtubule-stabilizing protein tau tangles in the brain to spread, which can lead to brain damage.

Recent studies show that lack of sleep is not just a symptom as once thought, but an illness-causing issue we have to deal with immediately because it can contribute to various mental health problems, according to clinical psychology professors from the University of Oxford.

Most people are not even aware that sleep deprivation can be the culprit of their health problems, but even several days of bad sleep can affect your mood, energy levels, and overall feeling of happiness. Bad sleeping habits and a restless mind can make a person feel irritable, sad, and even “empty” inside, which leads to procrastination, poor decision-making, ineffective problem-solving skills, anxiety, and an even worse mood.

Cognitive behavioral therapy can improve sleep

Various clinical studies have shown the effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in the treatment of insomnia among insomniacs with several different mental disorders. This specialized form of therapy for insomnia called CBT-I that challenges the way people think and feel as well as their beliefs is recommended by the American College of Physicians for all mental health-related sleep disorders.

Of course, when it comes to treatment of insomnia in bipolar patients, more research is always welcomed, but CBT can be a good asset to learn how to control your emotions, manage the symptoms of the disease, prevent relapses, and to pick up some coping strategies to lower stress levels.

CBT helps by teaching bipolar patients how to look at their situation from a different perspective, by directly tackling negative thoughts, feelings, and situations.

Lifestyle changes for better ZZZs

If you feel like your mind is constantly racing, and bad thoughts just keep coming one after another, this chatter is known as the “monkey mind”. If monkey voices often fill your head, it’s time to implement some changes.

  • Avoid coffee and cigarettes before bed. Caffeine can stick around your system even for 10 hours. Go for decaf options in the afternoons, and especially in the evening. Nicotine also acts as a stimulant, so try not to smoke at least an hour or two before bed (if you smoke, which you shouldn't). Some people drink alcohol to put themselves to sleep, and yes – alcohol can help you to fall asleep faster. It also, however, reduces rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the deepest stage of sleep.
  • Do something relaxing before bed. Play some soothing tunes right before bed, have a bath, or try reading at low light. Avoid screens that emit blue light such as phones or laptops. Also avoid going to bed if you don’t feel tired; it’s counter-productive.
  • Stick to the same wake-up and bedtime routine. When it comes to the exact time one should lie down, it’s hard to tell because different people get sleepy at different times – for someone it’s around 10 PM, and for others no sooner than 2 AM. It’s only important to stick to the routine and go to bed at a similar time each night. Ideally, our bodies should wake us up naturally when we’ve had enough. Experts recommend that optimal sleep length is eight hours, but many people need no more than six. Try to get up at the same time, preferably in the morning when you can catch up early morning light. This helps to regulate a disrupted circadian rhythm.
Improving your sleeping habits could help you to avoid mood episodes, as well as achieve a better overall quality of your life. If you experience sudden changes regarding your sleep, tell your doctor immediately because they can mean upcoming depression or mania — or even another medical condition.

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