For a long time, it’s been well recognized among bipolar researchers that mania and depression can affect sleep patterns. When a bipolar sufferer is experiencing acute mania, he may be too manic to sleep. Conversely, when he is going through a depressive episode, he may sleep too much and literally not feel like getting out of bed.
What many researchers have discovered as well is that the manic/depressive cycle works both ways. In other words, a lack of sleep can potentially trigger manic episodes. Studies are showing that up to 60 percent of bipolar suffers who have gone through a manic attack experience some sort of disruption in their normal sleep cycle prior to having the attack.
We all have had experiences when at the most inconvenient time possible, we were interrupted by life. Social rhythm disruptions, or SRDs, are life events that disrupt our established routines such as a sleep pattern. In normal people, i.e., those not suffering from bipolar disorder, this is not a big deal. We shrug it off and eventually return to our regular patterns. In bipolar patients, however, a social rhythm disruptions in their sleep pattern can directly trigger a manic attack.
This is why many health care professionals advise that their bipolar patients write up a sleep schedule for themselves and keep to it. This means going to bed at the same time each night and getting up at the same time each morning – even on weekends. Keeping to this schedule will keep “social rhythm disruptions” to a minimum and lessen the chances of a manic attack. As a general rule, following a sleep schedule also means not taking a nap when you’ve had a hard time sleeping the previous night. Taking a nap would simple be another form of social rhythm disruption and would not help in the long term.
Lack of enough sleep will make anyone irritable and cranky. Most of us, however, will simply be able to fall asleep the next night and “catch up on our sleep” and be perfectly fine the next day. Bipolar people can not always do this. They may be unable to go to sleep thus triggering a manic attack the next morning. The manic attack will lessen their desire to sleep and they will not sleep much the next night either. It is a frustrating and potentially deadly cycle.
It can be difficult for a bipolar person to keep to a sleep schedule without the help of family members. Including family members in the treatment discussions with the health care giver is good for everyone. It helps the family members to understand how critically important it is that the bipolar sufferer keeps to a regular sleeping routine. It helps the bipolar person by giving him emotional support and making him feel less abnormal.
Strong family support is especially important when the bipolar sufferer is a teenager who, in many; cases, is already going through a stressful period in his life at a time when peer pressure tends to make outcasts of those that don’t appear to be normal. But even in adult cases of bipolar disease, the support of a loving family cannot be over estimated.