Sleep: The One Thing to Really Track for Bipolar Disorder

I had just got off the phone with my new doctor and we had been chatting for about an hour.

This was one of those, “Getting to know you” sessions.

She needed to quickly get up to speed about me and how I was handling my Bipolar Disorder.

I just cut to the heart of the matter and said to her,

“The only thing I really pay mindful attention to is my sleep.

I use my sleep my touchstone or north star for managing the disorder.

Trying to track moods is pointless as tracking moods is like tracking the wind.

But sleep – that’s one thing I can control and see right away how I’m doing.”

A regular sleep routine is crucial to your wellbeing.

You know what they say, “Early to be and early to rise makes a person healthy, wealthy and wise.”

I have come to realize that there’s really alot truth to that statement, especially after being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder.

In today’s fast paced, hyper-connected, always on world we sacrifice sleep for a myriad of things that we think or more important.

But in actuality we’re doing more damage to ourselves than we think – especially with Bipolar Disorder. And in the long run this sleep deprivation or sleep debt will begin to effect our lives, every aspect of them.

Sleep is essential for the body and crucial for people with Bipolar Disorder.

During sleep is when your body and mind go into “service” mode. Like taking a car in for a tune up. Without enough hours of deep restorative sleep, you won’t be able to work efficiently, learn, create and communicate at an optimal level.

The Effects of Sleep Deprivation
• Inability to cope with stress
• Fatigue, lethargy and lack of motivation
• Moodiness and irritability
• Reduced creativity and problem solving skills
• Concentration and memory problems
• Weight gain
• Impaired motor skills and increased risk of accidents
• Difficulty making decisions
• Making poor decisions
• Increased risk of diabetes
• Reduced immunity; frequent colds and infections

I was only 20 when I was first hospitalized and given my diagnosis.

Being a young guy I thought that going to bed early and waking up at a descent hour would be impossible for me.

Especially since I was so used to staying up all night long partying.

But I realized that I had a greater purpose now.

I had been given a second chance and I was going to make the most out of it.

Now, I didn’t stop going out all together, that would’ve been just down-right horrible, and probably would’veve crushed all my hopes in pursuing an amazing life again. Because what would be the point if I couldn’t go dancing and see my friends.

I found a way that I could have the best of both worlds.

I could go out late every so often as long as my sleep was under control.

I could have a regular sleep schedule and still have the opportunity to go out with my friends to wherever we wanted to go once in awhile.

But the only way I could do that was if I had a regular and steady sleep schedule.

So I focussed on my sleeping schedule.

Sleep Hygiene is what all the cool kids are calling it nowadays.

But it wa something that I had already picked up on over 25 years ago.

I knew that this had to be brought under control.

I had to create some sort of sleep routine. That way I could have the proper foundation for everything else that I wanted to do.

Getting Into A Proper Sleep Routine Tip#1: Finding A Reason To Go To Sleep & Get Up Early

First and foremost I had to have a reason to get up early in the morning and go to bed early at night.

As if being diagnosed and going to the hospital wasn’t enough. Well obviously it wasn’t for. That’s why I had to motivate myself in some other way.

My new focus in life was to make healthy choices for my overall wellbeing so that I could feel and look good for the ladies.

Now, it’s a lot easier for me to get up early being a Zen Master. I have a different kind of motivation: to be of benefit to all beings. And in particular for my partner, my kids and my sangha.

My current morning routine has me up at 5am to have Zen tea and do my morning routine of prayers, chants, prostrations, meditation, and Bodhisattva Qigong.

Back then when I was twenty and shortly after I got home from the hospital I developed a mini Yoga routine that I would do when I got up in the morning.

At night I would also read and then meditate before I went to bed.

Check out the Quick and Easy Take 5 Meditation I designed for you!

You see, I needed to find something that I was excited about.

Some idea that would motivate me to change and adjust my ways.

A thought that I could have whereby I would direct enough of my willpower to , “Git er done.”

And back then, having a nice body and stable mind for the ladies was the exact motivation I needed to push me out of bed early in the morning and get me to sleep at a reasonable time at night.

When you’re tying to adjust your sleep schedule look at things that you can do that would motivate you to get out of bed early each and everyday.

Well, maybe not Sundays unless you go to church.

But even then you could always go to the late mass.

Consistency is they key to getting your sleeping routine under control.

Getting Into A Proper Sleep Routine Tip#2: The Wind Down Process

With the advent of electricity and in-home lighting humans began to break away from their natural and celestial rhythm of life. It took us a step away from the wise harmony of our mother earth.

An easy way to promote a healthy sleep cycle is to fall back in sync with the natural flow of the day.

How you can do this is to give yourself an evening Wind-Down Process.

Wind-Down Process Techniques

  • Instead a having the TV. blaring until the moment you finally decide to go to bed you could shut the TV off an hour or half-hour earlier than usual.
  • Stop checking your phone at least 30 mins before bed
  • Install dimmer lights and start to turn them down bit by bit. Try to match the Sun’s cycle.
  • Read a fiction book before bed. Nothing too stimulating though. Christopher Moore is my go to.
  • Journal your thoughts from the day.
  • Go for bath.
  • Listen to relaxing music before bed.
  • Visualize yourself living a good and healthy life
  • Give yourself a self massage.
  • Ease into your sleep. As you’re drifting off have your thoughts be about perfect health and that you’ll awake in the morning grounded, refreshed and ready to start your day.

Getting Into A Proper Sleep Routine Tip#3: Tapping Into Your Sleep Rhythm (Sleep/Wake Cycles )

Timing your sleep/wake cycles is the best!

My life completely changed when I did it.

And it’s the one thing I recommend to all my coaching clients.

Tapping Into Your Sleep Rhythm

The body follows a rhythm or pattern of cycles that flow in 80 minute cycles while you sleep.

So the trick is to time your sleep so that you have a minimum of 5 sleep cycles which last 90 minutes so that you’re getting at least 7.5 hours of sleep per night and that you’re waking up at the top of you sleep cycle when we’re closest to wakefulness.

For example if you go to bed at 10pm set your alarm for 5:30 (a total of 7.5 hours of sleep = 5 natural sleep cycles) instead of 6:00 or 6:30.

You will feel more refreshed waking up at 5:30 because you’re getting up at the end of a sleep cycle when your body and brain are already close to wakefulness.

Getting Into A Proper Sleep Routine Tip#4: Self-Massage

Massage is one of the easiest ways to maintain optimal health. It’s a great way to alleviate stress, tension headaches, insomnia, aches and pains. You name it, massage can help.

It also improves circulation, relieves muscle tension, aids in digestions and increases the elimination of waste products. And according to the Massage Therapy Association research also shows that massage can increase your endorphin levels. Those chemicals within your body that help you feel good.

A couple of techniques you can use are long strokes or specific finger pressure, sort of shiatsu style.

I like to do a combination of both.

I like to massage my legs, arms, shoulders and head the most.

I found it amazing and relaxing and it helps me sleep like a baby all night long.

Getting Into A Proper Sleep Routine Tip#5: Waking Up Gently

Just as we eased into sleep it will be of tremendous benefit to you to ease back out of sleep.

I’m not sure when we as a society signed up for the shock doctrine alarm clock reality but it has to go. And that’s exactly what I did.

Knowing well that I had to plan for my mornings as well as my evenings I thought about things that I could do to make my days start off right.

The first idea I had was that I’d really enjoy the mornings if I could wake up to the music I liked to hear. I could set the pace for the rest of my day. Sort of waking up to a morning anthem of sorts.

I knew I couldn’t do that with the radio though because I was always waking up to either commercials, Disc Jockeys rambling on about some sort of garbage or there’d be some song playing that I hated.

So what I did was go shopping. I found a little mini-stereo that gave me the ability to wake up to CD. Any track on the CD that I wanted. And to make it even better the volume would gradually climb to the level that I had set from the night before.

It was one of the best purchases of my life and I still have it today.

Nowadays we can do this with our phones and various apps out there.

Sleep: Some Final Thoughts

I now love waking up early in the mornings and it THE fundamental element of my healing journey with Bipolar Disorder.

Sleep is an essential element to becoming healthy.

It’s one of the foundations for a fantastic life.

Do what you can to get into and stick with a regular sleep routine.

It’ll be a saving grace in your life.

Try to cut out naps during the day if you can as well.

I know napping is great, especially on a nice fall day, but they wreak havoc on your sleep routine. Try to push through the urge if you can.

Not with coffee or any other substance, but with willpower and just go to be early that night.

The final balance that I worked out for my sleep routine when I was younger and after I had established a regular sleep routine was Sunday-Thursday I would go to bed at 11pm.

I would do my wind-down routine on those days laying the foundation for wellbeing in my life.

On Friday and Saturday’s I would go out with my friends.

Usually I would get home around 3-4am, totally wiped of course, but happy.

Happy because I wasn’t letting my diagnosis kill my joy.

I was having fun, going out still enjoying life, my family and friends.

The key to it all was that it was responsible fun.

Bipolar Buddha - Ian Paul Marshall
Sending you BIG LOVE!

Ian (The Bipolar Buddha)