The Role of Sleep in Bipolar Management

Last Updated: 12 Aug 2020

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September 3, 2020   •   Volume 13, Issue 36

Sleep affects everything from our breathing and immune system to stress hormones and cardiovascular health.

“There does not seem to be one major organ within the body, or process within the brain, that isn’t optimally enhanced by sleep (and detrimentally impaired when we don’t get enough),” neuroscientist Matthew Walker writes in his book, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams.

If only mania and depression could read, since neither makes sleep easy to manage.

While this is true, our state of sleep does offer us, or our loved ones, an essential clue as to our current mood state. Even if other symptoms are challenging to detect (by ourselves or by others), our sleep patterns don’t lie. If we’re entering a hypomanic state, our sleep will lessen, and if we’re heading into a depressive state, we will sleep more than usual.

According to the latest studies on sleep disorders and bipolar, cells in the central nervous system that regulate homeostasis—a state of balance—undergo atrophy, weakness, and loss in bipolar-specific regions of the brain.

Nevertheless, we can help recharge our brain—allowing it to grow muscle, repair tissue, and synthesize hormones, all crucial to optimal functioning—by embracing a routine.

Try to wake up at your regular time, even if you’ve had trouble sleeping the night before, and rise out of bed at a time that does not vary by more than an hour from one day to the next. Avoid naps, especially in the late afternoon; if you must rest, do so for under an hour. Consider exercising no later than three or four hours before bedtime.

Don’t dismiss sleep issues, as they can be a warning sign that an episode is on its way.

bp Magazine columnist and blogger Julie A. Fast is an expert on the topic of looking for and preventing triggers and managing moods: “I know what just one night of not getting at least seven hours [of sleep] will do to me eventually,” she says. “I don’t like having to be this precise. I want to be a free spirit and do whatever the heck I want! But I can’t.” Read more >>

6 Motivational Tips to Tackle Today’s Goals

Whether you are bogged down by old habits or mired in bipolar depression, these strategies will help you overcome inertia and achieve your goals—no matter their size!

#1 Interrupt Inertia First
When every molehill feels like an Everest, you need to address the hump of inertia first and foremost. To do this, set your larger goals to the back of your mind (temporarily!) so you can build momentum. It might feel counterintuitive, but you might need to lower your expectations at the very beginning, instead of diving in headfirst. At this point, the key is to focus on some action you can reasonably accomplish, no matter how trifling it may seem. What are the small things you can do, right now, that might help you to shift from stationary to moving? If a shower feels like just too much to handle, how about washing your face—or even just your hands? Break everything down into smaller steps that feel achievable right at this moment. There’s no shame in starting small. Because, hey, you’re starting—and that’s something to celebrate.

#2 Reward Yourself
Once you have figured out your small goal, write it down. When you achieve it, be sure to praise yourself. Learning thrives on reward, says psychologist Dan Bilsker, PhD. “Reward is like the fertilizer applied to a plant.” Keep a to-do list of “tasks”—simplified as much as necessary—and then reward yourself for accomplishing them and getting things done. Read more >>

About the author
Robin L. Flanigan is a national award-winning journalist for magazines and newspapers, and author of the children’s book M is for Mindful. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in language and literature from St. Mary’s College of Maryland, she worked for eleven years in newsrooms including The Herald-Sun in Durham, North Carolina, and the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, New York. Her work has earned awards from the Education Writers Association, the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association, the New York Newspaper Publishers Association, and elsewhere. She wrote the children’s book M is for Mindful, and also authored a coffee-table book titled Rochester: High Performance for 175 Years. When not writing for work, Robin is usually writing for pleasure, hiking (she climbed to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in 2008), or searching for the nearest chocolate chip cookie. She lives in Upstate New York with her husband and daughter, and can be found at or on Twitter: @thekineticpen.

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