A lack of sleep contributed to my first manic episode and my bipolar diagnosis. To become stable, I needed to solve my sleep problems—for good.
The Functional Purpose of Sleep
No longer is sleep just for our beauty. It is a foundational component for our mental well-being, and we cannot take it for granted. I believe knowing the importance, necessity, and purpose of sleep helps us to prioritize it and incentivizes our efforts to establish and maintain healthy sleep patterns once and for all.
Sleep’s purpose is to fuel and
energize our mind, body, and spirit. And along with food, sleep is like the gasoline
to our car—it keeps us running, reliable, and productive. Having poor, disrupted
sleep is like running on empty, being overrun, or ending up in a breakdown.
Having already done the work of wrestling my sleep demons and establishing healthy sleep patterns, I can share that the benefits of getting sleep normalized have been great! It was worth the effort to get to the point of having no trouble falling asleep; achieving restful, restorative sleep; and operating with what I consider my maximized best effort—because now I’m well-rested, energized, alert, focused, and clear-headed. Sleep is part of my self-care practice, but it is also its own separate self-care practice.
Relying on Medications to
I struggled with sleep for years—not as a child, but when it became my responsibility to maintain my rest for myself as an adult. And I didn’t manage my sleep; I took advantage of doing whatever I wanted and letting my sleep suffer. I stayed up late, was not a morning person, and was not mindful or even aware that I should be prioritizing and maintaining a healthy sleep routine. I developed such poor sleeping patterns, my sleep got all out of whack. I found the only way I could fall asleep was with the help of prescription medication. In fact, lack of sleep was a factor in my first manic episode and my bipolar diagnosis. Mania and bipolar motivated me to get a better handle on how I could manage myself and my life.
Making a Change for
Like making any change, fixing my
sleep problems didn’t happen overnight, and it is not something we can step
into. For me, it started with a commitment to tackle my sleep issue and a determination
to see it through to completion and achieve restful sleep.
I learned I had to prioritize
getting into a sleep pattern, just like you would with getting into a routine
of going to the gym. I needed to be consistent for months until my sleep became
normalized, but it has been normal (and no problem) ever since because now it
is something I just have to continue to maintain. My quality of sleep is so
much better, and I feel so much better that it’s no problem. I have no
intention of letting it slip again.
Wrestling Sleep Demons
Small & Staying Consistent
I spent many hours of my life lying
in bed wide awake and wishing I could fall asleep. My challenges with sleep were
falling asleep, having irregular sleep patterns, oversleeping, and not wanting
to get out of bed in the morning. I took over-the-counter sleep aids and even
prescription sleep medications; there was always something I would take to fall
asleep. Weaning off of sleep medication was part of my goal, too. But I allowed
myself to use them until I could finally be free of them. I was able to go from
a prescription plus a supplement called melatonin, to just melatonin, and then
gradually reduce the milligrams of melatonin until I no longer needed it at all.
I was patient and didn’t rush this process.
Also, I learned about winding down my
mind before going to bed—spending an hour or so of time just relaxing and
decompressing before going to sleep. This meant staying off social media, not
allowing myself to get revved up or engaged in any activity that required
concentration or mental involvement. I used to go to the gym in the evenings,
but now it works out that I am able to go earlier in the day. I found that watching
mindless TV or reading self-help books was a good way to do nothing. I also drank
“sleepytime” tea and honey as a nightly ritual to calm and relax me, too. This
really helped. It may sound silly, but I took this very seriously. And it
wasn’t easy, it required intentional effort. It’s very easy to slip off track,
fall back on your old habits, and end up right where we started. What I learned
about successful change is that it takes commitment, determination, perseverance,
and consistency. A real “can do” attitude.
Biggest Sleep Demon: Stress
The hard stuff was tackling bigger
issues factoring into my sleep problems, mainly stress, overwhelm, and my
monkey mind. And I literally sought ways to reduce my own stress levels just so
I could sleep better. Putting limits in place helped to lower stress levels. My
objective was to be more relaxed and comfortable as a way of being also so I
could sleep better at night. Good idea, huh? Of course, with bipolar, this was
hard to manage, but it was also that much more important because of my
bipolar and manic episodes.
Disrupted sleep was one of the first signs of a manic episode coming on. And normalizing my sleep has helped me to maintain emotional regulation, which keeps me out of mania. Meditation is great for calming the mind. My style of meditation is with no noise and all my focus and energy going to silencing my thoughts to the point of blackness. I got really good at doing this and find this is a good skill to have. Although it was a hard muscle to build, too, it was worth the investment.
Sleep to Avoid Mania
I don’t stay up too late, I don’t
wake up too late, and I don’t nap. I tend to go to bed around 11 p.m., and I keep
it that way. What I don’t allow is for the time to slip and get later and
later. Gone are the days of even going to bed after midnight, unless I am out.
And I used to not be a morning person; I would sleep late, like until 11 a.m.
Now I usually naturally get up by 9 a.m., sometimes earlier.
Also gone is the struggle I used to
have just getting out of bed. With less on my mind, less stress, and more
relaxation, getting out of bed isn’t even a thought. It’s kinda nice to not
even think about it. To maintain regularity of my nightly routine, it became
necessary to stop napping. I don’t nap at all. At best, I allow myself to lie
down, rest my body, even close my eyes, but I stop myself from sleeping if I am
feeling tired during the day, which is infrequent anyway.
With proper sleep, you really don’t
need energy drinks, coffee, or caffeine, so I also recommend getting into the
practice of no longer using them. If anything, I have my morning coffee, but I
no longer have any need to use caffeine or other stimulants to get me going in
the morning, and I prefer to steer clear of anything that may affect my sleep.
Lastly, I am a girl who loves a nice comfy bed with a higher-thread-count sheet
set. Our comfort definitely makes a difference to the quality of our sleep, and
even this factors into the overall result of our peace.
Sleeping in peace is a part of
living in peace. But to accomplish peace, it does
take wrestling our demons first.
Debbie Jacobs is an advocate, writer, and healing specialist living in Alexandria, Virginia. She lived most of her adult life with a diagnosis of depression and anxiety, and then was diagnosed with bipolar. She speaks out on how self-improvement is life improvement and believes we all can live happy lives by making positive changes to ourselves. Her influences are Louise Hay, Napoleon Hill, Les Brown, and Tony Robbins. She does positivity life coaching and is in the process of writing her first book on her healing process of accomplishing positive thinking, positive effective coping skills, and healthy self-esteem—what she calls “freedom and happiness.” She shares her work to motivate, inspire, and help others make positive changes to themselves for their freedom and happiness, too.
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