Sleep disturbances are incredibly common in bipolar disorder. During manic periods, patients tend to have significant amounts of sleeplessness. They have increased energy and feel like they need less sleep. In periods of depression, insomnia is a frequent symptom. However, a new study suggests people with bipolar disorder may be underestimating how much sleep they have each night.
LaRae LaBouff lives in Maine with her husband and her dog. She’s an amateur photographer and enjoys traveling, reading, writing and roller derby.Due to personal experience with Bipolar Disorder, she delved into the literature and research of the human mind. She currently writes of her own life experiences both with Psych Central and on her personal site.
Editor: Nadeem Noor
More than 3 million people in the U.S. suffer from insomnia. This includes most people with bipolar depression. Symptoms of insomnia include:
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Waking up during the night
- Waking up too early
- Not feeling well-rested
- Daytime sleepiness
- Worrying about sleep
There are multiple studies linking bipolar disorder to insomnia. However, most of these studies rely on patients to keep sleep diaries and report corresponding symptoms. A new study, led by Philipp S. Ritter of the Carl Gustav Carus and University Clinic in Dresden, sought to find out if patients accurately report their quantity of sleep.
The researchers recruited 22 bipolar disorder patients who were between episodes and 28 healthy volunteers to participate in the study. For 5-7 days, participants were required to keep a sleep diary, including tracking how long it took them to fall asleep and how many hours they slept. Participants also wore an activity and sleep-monitoring device called SOMNOwatch Plus. This device monitors movement, body temperature, respiratory flow, heart rate, sleep position and overall sleep analysis.
Ritter and his team then analyzed the data to see how the sleep diaries compared to the data from the sleep monitors. Both groups had generally correct estimates of how long it took them to fall asleep. The difference between the two groups showed in the estimates of how much sleep they got on a given night. Healthy participants underestimated their sleep by about four minutes.
Patients with bipolar disorder tended to underestimate their total sleep time by almost an hour.
This means that if a person with bipolar disorder suffering from symptoms of insomnia tries to estimate how much total sleep they actually got and thinks they slept for seven hours, they more likely slept eight.
If a person has the perception that they have not slept well enough, their quality of life can be negatively affected. People who rate their sleep poorly have reported increased depression and more side effects of medication. So, it’s possible that some people may experience a lower quality of life simply because they thought they were not getting enough sleep when they actually were.
One explanation for the discrepancy between the two groups is that even though the bipolar disorder patients were between mood cycles, they still had some elevated symptoms of depression. Depression itself can cause poor judgement of time.
Having the additional hour of sleep is not the whole story. When a person experiences the effects of insomnia, they suffer no matter how much sleep they actually got. It is important for people with bipolar disorder to keep a daily routine and practice good sleep hygiene in order to help stave off sleep problems.