We all know that a good night’s sleep is uber important for bipolar brains. But sometimes life gets in the way and the next thing we know we’re lying there, praying and hoping to finally fall asleep. But don’t just lay there! There are some techniques and tips you can implement to guarantee you get the sleep you need. If you’ve implemented these and still have no luck be sure to discuss with your healthcare provider.
4-7-8 Breathing Technique. I’ve been using this trick for at least two years now. Something about this count can be just the ticket I need to get myself to finally zonk out and get some sleep. I do this breathing technique once I’ve settled into bed and am ready to fall asleep.
Here’s how it’s done…
- Breathe in for four seconds
- Hold your breath for seven seconds
- Slowly breathe out for eight seconds
Sometimes this takes about 3 minutes but I rarely remember going longer than that which means I am OUT. This is a really great trick to use when traveling. I tend to have a more difficult time falling asleep then.
Maintain a Routine. Going to bed and waking up around the same time each day can help set your circadian rhythm. I’ve noticed that going to bed late even one night will make it harder for me to fall asleep at a reasonable hour the following night. So I’m actually hurting multiple nights sleep just by letting this slip once. I have that little reminder on my phone for bedtime and I try to stick with 10 pm – 6:30 am most days.
Don’t sleep in. This can be particularly testing of your willpower. And when you’re in the throes of depression there is often hardly anything you can do to pull yourself up. Maybe just read in bed or find an activity in bed but that keeps you from dozing in and out when lying in bed. This will throw off your sleep that night and keep your rhythm out of whack. Best to get out of bed but I get it!
Exercise in the morning. There are some things that non-bipolar people can get away with and exercising at all hours of the day might be one of them. When you bipolar we seem to rev up more quickly and rev down more slowly than most people. When you exercise to close to your bedtime you might be keeping your internal clock from having enough time to wind down.
Let your home “wind down” in the evening. Turn down your lights. Set a sleep filter on your computer (I use f.lux) which helps block out the blue light that your screens emit. Dr. Elen Voss proposes that bipolar patients might be more susceptible to bright lights which can delay our melatonin secretion. You can also use this as a trick in the morning. Get those lights going when you get up!
Consider supplementation. Many herbal remedies and supplements tout the ability help you get a good night’s sleep. At the end of the day, it is melatonin that tells our body that it is time to sleep. If you’re having a hard time actually feeling tired your body might not have enough of the precursor to melatonin to create it. Tryptophan is the precursor to melatonin. The metabolic pathway is Tryptophan -> 5-HTP -> Melatonin AND Serotonin. So Tryptophan might be what your body is craving to feel sleepy.
High cortisol levels might be another cause for insomnia. Supplementing with Ashwagandha might help level that as well. I use this blend called Cortisol Manager that includes Ashwagandha, L-Theanine, and Magnolia to support my adrenal glands. Finally, you might be low in trace minerals such as zinc and magnesium. I advise trying them out separately and if they seem to work then you could consider combining them or stacking them to make a custom sleep pack for you to take each night. Talk to your healthcare practitioner for guidance. [Disclaimer]
Lights out, silence. Depending on your family situation I realize this can be difficult. but, as much as it is possible I recommend making your bedroom sleep friendly. That means blocking out as much light as possible. Even the smallest light from an alarm clock or laptop can disrupt your sleep. And of course, keeping it as quiet as possible while sleeping. I realized even our dishwasher and washing machine could be heard from our bedroom which is a problem.
Have any other sleep tricks that help you? Let me know in the comments!