Accept that you’re having a tough time right now. If you’re working through a manic episode, it’s understandable that you’re struggling to sleep—and that’s okay. It’s going to be difficult to fall asleep if you keep focusing on how impossible it is to fall asleep, so take a deep breath. Acknowledge the reality, show yourself empathy, and remember that this is temporary.
Remember that this isn’t your fault. Manic bipolar episodes are uncomfortable and upsetting, but you didn’t do anything to cause this.
If you’ve experienced a manic episode before, you know that you will get through this. As difficult as it may be to sleep right now, you will fall asleep eventually.
Stay still to break your impulse to move or fidget. Since you’re manic, you likely have the impulse to do something. If you’re twirling your hair, picking your nails, or twisting and turning, you’ll activate your nervous system and keep yourself awake. Lie as still as possible. Try leaving your hands in one place and focus on keeping your body quiet. This will make it a lot easier to actually fall asleep.
You could literally picture yourself as a statue or pretend you’re a robot. Some people with bipolar find this kind of visualization helpful.
Recite a calming song or poem in your mind. If your thoughts are racing, try replacing your obsessive thinking with something more relaxing. In your head, recite the lyrics of a beautiful song that you love. Alternatively, you can go through a poem you enjoy, or try to remember a poem you had to memorize in school. This can stop wild, racing thoughts in their tracks so you can sleep.
If you’re sleeping alone, you can try humming or singing quietly. That might have a calming effect and help you get into the right headspace to fall asleep.
Create a list in your head to distract yourself. If the gears in your mind just can’t stop turning, give them a productive task with no clear end—like making a list in your head! You might try listing every street in your hometown in order, or rank your favorite movies. Alternatively, you could create a lineup for a fictional music festival, or make a list of dream jobs.
Any ideas or thoughts that occupy your mind and keep you from hyper-fixating on whatever is keeping you awake should help.
Listen to relaxing music to redirect your focus. Throw on some quiet, calming music and focus on the soothing music while you lie still in bed. Classical, jazz, lofi instrumental, and folk music are all excellent options. Keep the volume low and just track the tune. You should find yourself calming down and getting ready to sleep in no time.
Many people with bipolar enjoy listening to binaural beats. These are meditative songs that only rely on 2-3 tones, which supposedly helps your brain relax. There isn’t a ton of science on it, but people seem to think they work, so it’s worth giving a shot! You can find these songs by searching online. They’re also on Spotify and YouTube.
Try a deep breathing exercise to relax your body. Place one hand on the chest and one hand on the stomach to monitor your breaths. Take a long, slow breath through your nose and feel the air filling up your lungs, then your stomach. Slowly release the air from your mouth, feeling your stomach deflate as the air leaves. Practice doing 4 to 6 breaths per minute, repeating the cycle for 10 or more times.
Get ready for bed as you normally would but perform this exercise to help calm your mind and make getting to sleep easier. You may also perform this exercise while sitting in a chair.
Deep breathing can be helpful for calming the rapid thoughts and anxiety that may accompany mania during any time of the day or night. No one has to know you're even doing the exercise.
Get up and do something calming if you can't fall asleep. If you can't sleep after 15-20 minutes, don't just lie in bed awake. Get up and do something very relaxing that doesn’t involve turning on a ton of lights or looking at a screen. That might mean listening to soothing music or taking a bath, for instance. After a few minutes of activity, try going back to bed again.
After 15-20 minutes of lying awake, you’re super likely to start focusing on how you can’t fall asleep. In a manic episode, that can spiral out of control fast.
Do not look at the clock! If you keep focusing on how little sleep you’re going to get, you’ll just fixate on that thought which can keep you up even longer.
Try reading a book, which will engage another sense (sight), so that you don’t feel trapped in your mind while you lie there in the dark.
If you’re hypomanic, it’s possible that you’ll get super invested in what you’re reading and stay up even later. If that happens, it’s okay. You’re better off reading than lying in bed tossing and turning.
Take any medications your psychiatrist gave you for sleep. If your doctor or psychiatrist has diagnosed you with bipolar disorder, they may have given you medication as a last resort for serious sleep issues. If you’re manic and struggling to sleep, now is the time to take it.
Only take medications as directed by your psychiatrist or doctor. Do not take more than directed, even if you’re really struggling to sleep.
If you have not been prescribed any sleep medication, you can try taking 2 mg of melatonin with a doctor’s permission. This is a hormone that is naturally secreted by the body when it’s dark out and basically tells your body to go to sleep.
Establish a regular nightly routine and stick with it. You may be able to prevent manic episodes by practicing good sleep hygiene. This is very effective at curing sleeplessness in people with bipolar disorder—even those in a manic episode. Develop a wind-down routine to get you in the right mind frame for sleep.
A nightly routine may consist of doing light stretching, tidying up your home, preparing your clothing for the following day, taking a hot bath, and reading a book.
Try to do things that do not involve bright lights or technology since these things do not signal to your brain that it is sleep time.
Get ready for bed at the same time every night, and turn off all of your electronics at least an hour before that time.
Use your bedroom exclusively as a place to sleep. If you are a person that does work on your laptop in bed or watches TV while you’re lying down, cutting back on that will help. Treating your bed like it’s a sacred space for slumber will make it a lot easier to sleep. Try moving distracting activities from the bedroom and do these in another area.
Maintain a dark, cool, and comfortable bedroom. If your bedroom is cozy and inviting it will be easier to fall asleep there. Get a cozy mattress, bedding, and pillows to create an environment conducive to sleeping. In addition, cover your windows with blackout curtains to let minimal light in, and turn down your thermostat to a cool temperature.
If you have roommates or you live with your family and they make noise at night, put earplugs in.
Get an eye cover if you can’t practically keep light from bleeding into your room.
Minimize alcohol and caffeine consumption before bed. Depending on the medications you are taking, you may have already been instructed to limit these beverages completely. However, if you have been cleared to drink alcohol and caffeine, keep consumption to several hours before bed.
You may be surprised at the advice about not drinking alcohol before bed. Most people will feel drowsy after one or two drinks. Even though alcohol may help you fall asleep, it does not promote good quality sleep and alcohol is a common trigger for manic episodes.
Caffeine is a stimulant, so the last thing you want to do in the hours before bed is stimulate yourself even more than you already may be with manic symptoms. Cut caffeine intake in the afternoon to sleep better at night.
Stop taking naps during the day. Taking a power nap every now and then is no big deal, but if you’re regularly taking extended naps, it will interfere with your sleep cycle. Napping can make it harder to fall asleep come nighttime, which will keep you up late and increase the need for a nap the following day. This vicious cycle can be tough to get out of, so cut the naps out entirely.
Take a bath to physically calm your body. If you’re unable to sleep or you want to calm down before your bedtime, draw a warm bath and soak in the water. Light a few candles and throw on some relaxing music if you’d like. The warm water will help ground you and soothe your urge to fixate or ruminate on something outside of yourself, which should make it much easier to fall asleep.
If you don’t like soaking, a warm shower should have the same effect.
Meditate for a few minutes daily to center yourself before bed. Meditating is a terrific way to cleanse your mind of negative thoughts and promote relaxation. Sit in a quiet room with your legs crossed on the floor or with your back straight in a chair. Close your eyes. Breathe normally, but focus your attention on each inhale and exhale. Refuse to let your mind wander, returning your attention to the breath each time you go astray.
Do this for a few minutes until you build up to longer periods.
Even just 13 minutes of daily meditation is scientifically proven to improve your memory, mood, and attention.
If you find it difficult to meditate alone, look online for a guided meditation video.
Try progressive muscle relaxation before you lie down. Engaging in progressive muscle relaxation can calm your central nervous system and help you fall asleep easier. Sit comfortably in a chair. Take a few deep breaths, breathing in calm and breathing out tension. Slowly, moving up through your body, tense one muscle group and hold it for a few seconds. Release the tension and notice how it feels. Move up to the next muscle group until you have done your entire body.
Roughly 20 minutes of deep muscle relaxation can dramatically improve your mood and sense of calm.
Get regular physical activity to regulate your bipolar symptoms. Exercise can be a great way to calm anxiety and keep your mood stable during a manic phase of bipolar disorder. However, to keep intense activity from disrupting your sleep, try working out in the morning or at least several hours before bed. Aim to get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week.
Your exercise regimen can include moderate activities like yoga, Pilates, or a walk through the park. You can also engage in more vigorous forms of exercise such as running or high-intensity interval training.
No matter what type of exercise you choose, the benefits outweigh those of not doing any at all. Regular exercise can improve mood, lower risk of disease, and even help with the depressive episodes you experience with bipolar.
Turn on a guided imagery video to help ease into sleep. This form of relaxation involves a number of techniques that use the senses to reduce anxiety and stress. A guided imagery session may require you to imagine that you are on a serene walk through a meadow or wading through the ocean.
You can find plenty of these videos online on sites like YouTube.
Stay away from your triggers, especially later in the day. Many (but not all) people with bipolar have triggers that can send them into a manic or depressive episode. If you have any known triggers, do your best to avoid them. If you have to tackle something stressful or triggering, do it as early in the day as possible to give yourself plenty of time to recover.
Common triggers include stress, conflict with others, or difficult work.
Some triggers are unavoidable, like seasonal changes. Just try to be cognizant of these periods and prepare for them ahead of time by keeping your schedule as open as possible and preparing to relax.
Find a psychiatrist with experience in treating bipolar disorder. Your psychiatrist will help you determine a medication regimen that will help you control bipolar symptoms. Always take your medications as prescribed, since skipping a dose may induce a manic episode. Alert your psychiatrist if you are having sleep problems. Consistent sleep deprivation may exacerbate bipolar symptoms, so don’t hesitate to get help!
Many of the common antidepressants prescribed for bipolar disorder may actually improve your sleep schedule.
If you are taking medications and you feel like they’re interfering with your sleep, talk to your doctor to see if you can change your meds or add additional meds to your current regimen.
Consider prescription sleep aids if this is a chronic issue. Medications like Trazadone and Seroquel are extremely popular non-addictive sleep aids that can be a huge help during bouts of hypomania where sleep is extremely difficult. Benzodiazepines like zolpidem and lorazepam are also commonly prescribed for occasional insomnia. If your psychiatrist thinks medications are appropriate, weigh the pros and cons with them.
Seroquel is an antipsychotic that is non-habit forming. It works by blocking the serotonin receptors in your brain that keep your imagination active, which makes it super easy to sleep.
Trazadone is an antidepressant that works similarly to Seroquel. It has the added benefit of soothing the impulse to move, which is a big barrier for many bipolar folks with insomnia.
Benzodiazepines can be intimidating because they’re habit-forming with long-term use. However, they are a great solution for occasional bipolar insomnia since they’re so calming.
Your psychiatrist may also suggest non-addictive sleep aids that can be purchased over-the-counter, like diphenhydramine (Benadryl).
Try interpersonal and social rhythms therapy (IPSRT) if you want help with routines. This is a form of psychotherapy based upon the idea that bipolar disorder is caused or made worse by disruptions to circadian rhythms and sleep deprivation. Its goal is to reduce the reoccurrence of manic episodes. IPSRT can be conducted one-on-one or in a group setting. It focuses on helping people with mood disorders like yourself better manage their everyday lives with better sleep routines.
These therapies also often cover strategies to improve and stabilize your energy levels, as well. This can be deeply helpful during periods of hypersomnia, which is the opposite of hypermania.
You can find a therapist who specializes in IPSRT by looking online. This isn’t a particularly uncommon school of therapy, so you can always ask if a therapist is familiar with it before choosing them.