The Effect of Sleep on Bipolar Disorder

If you worked several overtime hours and experienced low moods, tiredness, and jumbled thoughts, you might be exhausted. But if those symptoms persist for months and don’t respond to self-help, you could have bipolar disorder. It’s a less prevalent illness than depression, but its symptoms are treatable.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder (BD) is a mental illness leading to swings in mood, energy, and whether you think clearly. BD sufferers experience high moods (mania) and low moods (depression), which differ from normal ups and downs that most people experience.

The average onset age is about 25, but it also can happen in teens or less frequently in childhood. BD affects about three percent of the U.S. – men, and women equally. Eighty-three percent of cases are classified as severe.

Know the Symptoms

There are several kinds of bipolar and associated disorders. They may include depression and mania or hypomania. Symptoms can lead to unpredictable changes in behavior and mood, causing significant distress and difficulty in life.

  • Bipolar I disorder. You’ve experienced one or more manic episodes that could be preceded or followed by major depressive or hypomanic episodes. Mania can trigger a detachment from reality (psychosis) in some cases.
  • Bipolar II disorder. You’ve experienced at least one hypomanic episode and at least one major depressive episode, but never a manic episode.
  • Cyclothymic disorder. You’ve suffered at least two years — one for children and teens — of numerous periods of depressive symptoms, but less severe than major depression and hypomania symptoms.
  • There are other types of bipolar disorder. These may include bipolar and related disorders caused by certain alcohol or drugs or due to a medical condition, such as multiple sclerosis, Cushing’s disease, or stroke.

The Effect of Sleep on Bipolar Disorder

According to the American Psychiatric Association, “Sleep disturbance is a core symptom of bipolar disorder. The diagnostic criteria indicate that during manic episodes there may be a reduced need for sleep and during episodes of depression, insomnia or hypersomnia can be experienced nearly every day.”

How does sleep affect people with bipolar disorder? It can lead to one or more of the following:

  • Insomnia, the failure to fall asleep or stay asleep long enough to be refreshed (leading to feeling tired the next day).
  • Hypersomnia, where you oversleep, is occasionally even more widespread than insomnia during times of unhappiness in bipolar disorder.
  • Less need for sleep, which differs from insomnia, because you can function with little or no sleep and not feel fatigued as a result the following day.
  • A circadian rhythm sleep disorder called delayed sleep phase syndrome, leading to insomnia and daytime tiredness.
  • Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep abnormalities can make dreams appear very vivid or strange.
  • Irregular sleep-wake schedules can result from a lifestyle involving excessive activity at night.
  • People with BD also may have co-occurring drug addictions, disrupting sleep and deepening pre-existing signs of bipolar disorder.
  • Co-occurring sleep apnea might affect a third of people experiencing bipolar disorder and result in excessive daytime sleepiness and fatigue.

Symptoms may be treatable with medicine, counseling, or ketamine therapy.

Who is at Risk?

Factors that may boost the risk of getting bipolar disorder or serve as a trigger for the initial episode include:

  • Having a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, with bipolar disorder
  • Periods of high stress, such as the death of a loved one or other traumatic event
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Environmental factors may increase the risk

Just because you’re at increased risk of developing bipolar disorder doesn’t mean you will get it.

How Much Sleep Do We Need?

The amount of required sleep differs by age:

  • Children 13 and younger, including newborns, require several hours of sleep: nine to 17 hours in 24 hours
  • Teens 14- to 17-years old: 8-10 hours
  • Adults 18- to 64-years old: seven to nine hours
  • Adults 65 and older: seven to eight hours

Ketamine Therapy for Bipolar Disorder

Ketamine is a powerful medicine that was first introduced as an anesthetic in the 1960s. While it’s primarily used for anesthesia on humans, ketamine also is a staple in veterinary clinics nationwide for the same reason. Research has shown that it has efficacy beyond the operating room or in sedating irate people or animals throughout history. In recent years, medicine has been effective at treating symptoms of BD and other illnesses. 

Final Thoughts

Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness that can lead to other conditions if its symptoms are ignored. Though it only affects a small percentage of U.S. adults, BD symptoms are sometimes misdiagnosed, leading to ineffective treatment. 

If you think you may be struggling with bipolar disorder, see your psychiatrist or primary care provider for an evaluation.  

If you’ve already been diagnosed with BD, and your symptoms don’t improve with standard treatments, your doctor may refer you to ketamine therapy.

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