The Sleep Variable

Sleep as a Stabilizer

Sleep is one of the first thing I address when it comes to attempting to manipulate any external variables in an attempt to stabilize myself. Obviously it isn’t any sort of instant cure for any problem but I have never once had getting more sleep when I wasn’t sleeping backfire on my mood (I would know, I keep charts!). Trying to manipulate oneself to sleep less while oversleeping is a tad more risky, but more often than not when I fail in that category it isn’t my mood that suffers, I just continue to sleep too much. For me, many larger mood swings can be offset by adding or tweaking the sleep variable. In addition, having a solid, set sleep schedule can largely help keep my mood more even in general.

Though having a set sleep schedule is best idea I can think of for myself, it has been very difficult for me to execute. Having a job with an irregular schedule can wreak havoc on regular sleep habits, and events requiring one to stay up a little later or wake up a little earlier are a fact of life. Though sleep regulation has been a difficult thing for me to work on, the more attention I pay to it the more it pays off.

Sleep as an Emergency Reset Button

Pretty much any time I am in the sort of mood where lights are flashing and sirens are going off, any intensely uncomfortable or dangerous mood, sleep is my number one answer. If I can go to sleep and get a good 10-12 hour chunk of sleep it acts as a reset button. For sudden episodes this technique acts as my sort of emergency reboot.

Shut down the ol’ brain, ‘boot her back up.

From what I understand, many psychiatrists prescribe drugs for this very situation and sleeping is usually the immediate course of action advised upon getting an emergency phone call (as long as hospitalization is not immediately required). It seems extremely unlikely (because I couldn’t say for sure if it is impossible) that anyone who is sleeping will carry out a suicide attempt, right? In that regard I think sleeping in an emergency situation is one of the safest things you can do.

My boyfriend has witnessed enough at this point to know when to grasp me by the shoulders and say, “hon, go to bed.” It has been invaluable to have someone around to remind me of that because usually when I need it the most I am too emotionally distraught to recognize it.

Offsetting Too Little Sleep

Even when I am having a euphoric mood with no need for sleep, 9 times out of 10 things will start to escalate and I will begin losing control after two or three sleepless, energetic nights. Ideas suddenly become that much more grandiose, my desire to curb the mood will begin to fail, and soon I can rationalize even the most irrational thoughts. It is important for me to bring myself down before the whole thing gets blown out of proportion, and that is a situation where sleep becomes my number one ally.

With little or no desire to sleep in this phase it can be incredibly overwhelming trying to sleep after one realizes they somehow can’t.

I’ve compiled a list of things that one might use to get to sleep in those situations, and there are some nights where I have to use several in one night to get to sleep.

  • Taking a nice hot bath or shower
  • Receiving a relaxing massage
  • Physical touch (a nice cuddle) with another warm body (human or pet)
  • Deep breathing and/or meditation
  • Aromatherapy – lavender, chamomile, and sage are supposedly soothing for falling asleep
  • Stretching – it sounds simple, but can help with physical discomfort and relaxation
  • Drinking a warm (decaf) beverage
  • Reading a book – now, this can backfire if the book is too interesting, it’ll just keep you awake. I try to use books with more difficult vocabulary or more complex writing styles, that way I have to really slow down while I read, which usually helps. Anything a bit more taxing than what you’re used to reading is ideal.
  • Watching a movie – this works for some people, again it depends on the movie. I know it isn’t a bad movie or anything but for some reason any time I put on 3:10 to Yuma I fall asleep within the first ten minutes. Those sorts of movies are great to have in your arsenal. I shy away from anything too “triumphant” (aka anything scored by John Williams). Also, beware of televisions without a “sleep” feature that turn themselves off after a specific amount of time, without that you might wake up after listening to the dvd menu music/dialog for three hours straight while sleeping which totally puts me in a funk.
  • Listening to music – I had a specific mix tape at one point dedicated to making me fall asleep, mostly instrumental sorts of music (Sigur Ros, Explosions in the Sky, movie scores)
  • Listening to white noise/ambient noise – great with an ipod or iphone, stick in your headphones and go!
  • Listening to binaural waves – I would highly suggest the Mindwave app for ipod/iphone. This uses sound waves at different frequencies to stimulate different parts of the brain, again just stick in your headphones and go!
  • Medical cannabis is something that some people swear by as a sleep aid, though currently only legal in a few states.
  • And if all else fails, that’s usually about the time I take a sleep-aid (Ambien would be an example).

Personally it is very important to me that I don’t rely too much on sleep aids because I have already experienced what pharmaceutical dependence is like and it is not a pretty thing. Also Ambien caused me to have extremely intense hallucinations once, so again, I try to use these only as a last resort but sometimes a last resort is necessary.

Offsetting Too Much Sleep

It tends to be more difficult for me to cut back oversleeping when I am depressed vs. inducing sleep while hypomanic. Even so, I have noticed that it helps to have a set amount of time dedicated to being conscious while I’m depressed instead of allowing myself to sleep the day away.

  • Fresh air – it doesn’t have to be as much as going outside (which can seem daunting while depressed) but if you can that’s great. If not, just opening a window can help get rid of groggy sleepiness.
  • Eating healthier – again, sounds like a task when I’m depressed, all I want to do is eat comfort food that puts me into a food coma! Eating a salad instead of continuous mac n’ cheese is helpful for me every once in a while.
  • Performing repetitive tasks – nothing huge, but if I am to knit or play solitaire while being a couch potato I am much more likely to make it though that movie or tv show without napping.
  • Exercise – exercise is proven to increase energy, even though it usually feels to me that it is initially sapping all the energy I have at the time. Yoga is great for being energizing without requiring much energy to perform.
  • Making plans – I try to make plans at times I know I shouldn’t be sleeping (like the mid afternoon) so I am occupied during that time and can’t sleep.
  • Caffeine – I usually avoid this but when I’m depressed I’ll allow myself a cup of tea. Some people can handle caffeine fine but it can trigger hypomania for me.
  • Having a pet – kind of like making plans, but this is more of a permanent solution. I have to be up at certain times to take out my dog, so having that repetitive daily commitment helps keep me up. Also having to take her outside means I get fresh air as well, two birds with one stone!
  • Turn on a lamp – supposedly dim lighting can add to fatigue, so the more light, the better
  • Do a puzzle – personally I love puzzles, and not just the fluffy kitty cat jigsaw puzzles either. Doing a crossword, sudoku, watching Jeopardy, anything to keep my mind working (even a little) will likely keep me awake too.

Like I said, I really think it is much more difficult to offset too much sleep because usually when I need to my motivation is gone entirely.

How Much?

I guess everyone is different, as far as how much sleep is a good amount for each person. I need a little more than the average person. It usually takes me 10-12 hours to feel rested so I try to avoid napping, sleeping an hour or two at a time tends to leave me more cranky than refreshed. After particularly strenuous activities or after having gone a long time without the comfort of my own bed I tend to need 14-18 hours of sleep to recover.

Most people seem to have a pretty good grasp on how much sleep they need (or like) to get to function properly but if you don’t all it takes it a little experimentation to find out. Once I figured out the tricks for my own body, sleep has become the number one external variable I manipulate to improve my mood.

6 responses to “The Sleep Variable

  1. Sleep is so very important to the brain as well as the body. Research has determined that sleep is useful to us in many ways at each level of sleep itself. Not only does sleep help the body regenerate, it is critical for the mind to regenerate too. And when I say sleep, I’m talking about quality, uninterrupted sleep.

    Sleep is required for learning. Studies have shown that subjects and students perform better on tests after having adequate sleep. It is also the mechanism that allows our minds to “process” emotions and situations. Other studies revealed that problems solving skills increased after complete sleep cycles.

    Unfortunately, sleep is not the be all, end all for mood stabilization. Forced sleep can occasionally help reduce the intensity of hypomania and mania. And reduced sleep may be able to aid in the reduction of symptoms during depressive episodes. But, it is not a guarentee. Why? Because the quality of sleep tends to decline during these episodes. Hypomania and mania are likely to interrupt sleep, making it less effective. Depression is known to disrupt sleep cycles and not provide enough REM sleep. Hence, the discrepancy between patients who experience insomnia and hypersomnia during depressive episodes.

    Therefore, if not addressed on all fronts, episodes will continue. You’ve covered a lot of those fronts, but only in the sense that they are related to reducing or increasing sleep. The aim in sleeping is to increase REM sleep specifically. Now, I can’t give you too much coverage on hypomania. Honestly, I haven’t mastered it, because I haven’t had nearly enough exposure to it. However, depression is something I’m specifically prone to.

    The best medicine for depression is obligation and increased, engaging recreational time, in addition to sleep. In the last year, I’ve had a pretty rigid schedule. By having activities that forced me out of bed, such as caring for my child (similar to caring for a pet, but far more involved in terms of emotional behavior), and going to work (because I know that they don’t have anyone to cover for me. I’m the only teacher on staff that has any musical knowledge), I can ride it out. That is not to say that I’m not symptomatic. But, these specific activities deter me from engaging in self-destructive, depressive behavior. I cannot isolate with 15 children under 10 around me. I cannot cry and spend all day in bed when my son needs his mother. It breaks the cycle down, somewhat, and lessens the duration, even if it does little to lessen the intensity.

    LOL, sorry for the novel!

  2. Pingback: Breaking a Depressive Cycle | A Canvas Of The Minds

  3. I am laughing so hard right now, because 3:10 to Yuma used to be my go-to for sleep – the original (1957), with Glenn Ford and Van Heflin!

  4. Pingback: The Relaxation Variable « bi[polar] curious

  5. Pingback: The Stress Variable « bi[polar] curious

  6. I just told my doctor yesterday (2-21-12), that the medicine works, but sleep is the bellweather and lynchpin for me. Managing my “Sleep Hygiene” is the single most important factor to managing my mood.

    If I’m not sleeping enough and I don’t miss it, that’s a warning. At that point I take my sleeper medicine, get out the first Harry Potter, ( I dunno?), put the movie on repeat, and go to bed. I don’t watch a clock because my re-boot sleep automatically ends when it’s done. I make sure to drink a nice glass of filtered water every time I get up to pee, because dehydration makes the sleep pointless. It’s also important to point out that shame-free sleep for a day without the world ending helps me keep perspective.

    I never run down the street angry, naked, and throwing money, (Full Blown Mania), but I know that always following the (hypo)mania is depression. It’s better to keep my feet on the ground than fly too close to the Sun and fall into the pit. It’s sleep that keeps me grounded.

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