One of the symptoms we rarely think of in conjunction with bipolar disorder is long-term sleep problems. You may be aware that someone in a manic phase generally sleeps very little, but what you might not know is that a surprising number of bipolar people have sleep problems outside of mania that can be extremely difficult to treat and can lead to serious difficulty with basic daily functioning.
I’ve tried every sleeping pill my psychiatrist could think of; none of them — and I mean none of them — worked. Sometimes I would take two or three times the prescribed dose in a desperate attempt to sleep, but hours later I’d still be lying in bed wide awake, unable to close my eyes and find some rest.
This had been my normal for many years until my therapist finally recommended an antipsychotic which allows my thoughts to slow down and makes me just drowsy enough to drift off reliably every night. A bipolar friend, however, takes about 12 times the dose I use of the same medication and still can’t sleep. Everyone is different, and our individual sleep problems are just as unique as we are.
When I was diagnosed as having bipolar disorder, my psychiatrist added that I was also what was known as ‘rapid-cycling.’ He explained that this meant I experienced four or more episodes a year. I laughed, and told him it was more like four a month sometimes.
It’s not really funny, but to me the idea that anyone had fewer than four was totally strange — in reality, I was the rarity. Rapid cycling affects around 10–20% of people with bipolar, more women than men, and occurs most often in people who had their first bipolar episodes at a younger age, generally in their mid-to-late teens.