Bipolar [bp] Magazine: Bipolar & Sleep Disturbance: We Can’t All Be Prince

Several months before my first psychotic break, I made a decision. At the time, I thought it was a bright idea, which wasn’t surprising given the fact that, at the time, I also thought I was incapable of anything but bright ideas.

The plan was simple: live like Prince. No, not a prince, but Prince—the phenom, the god, the ultimate rockstar. I had no intention of adopting the full lifestyle, by any means. Thatwould be crazy. Plus, I had neither the money to build a hair salon in my home nor the desire to become The Artist Formerly Known as Melody.

Ever the reasonable one, I chose to adopt only one Princian habit: I would sleep only when I was tired. I would no longer attempt to conform to the oppressive demands of the sun and the moon. I would accept my natural sleep-wake cycle. But by choosing to sleep every other night, I unwittingly set myself up for a barrage of delusions, hallucinations, and wicked spending sprees. In my defense, I had yet to be diagnosed. I wasn’t medicated, and I didn’t know what a manic episode was, let alone that I was in the midst of one.

Today, things are different. Today, I not only know what a manic episode looks like, but also what actions and events are most likely to induce one. Today, if I were to follow my “natural” circadian rhythms, I know I’d be a hot mess within less than a week. My sleep cycle varies drastically with my moods—so much so that I now recognize that bipolar disorder, for me at least, is not only a mood disorder, but also a sleep disorder.

I have to work incredibly hard to stick to a steady sleep schedule, and I admit, I don’t always succeed. In the midst of a depressive episode, I can easily sleep more than half the day away, and in the midst of a manic one, I can just as easily stay awake for days on end. In a lot of ways it’s a chicken-and-egg scenario: When I’m manic, I sleep less, and when I sleep less, I grow manic. Likewise, when I’m depressed, I sleep more, and when I sleep more, I grow depressed. It’s a vicious cycle.

Nevertheless, over the years, as I’ve learned more about my illness and have become more cognizant of my triggers, I’ve gotten better at recognizing—and breaking—that cycle. I’m not going to say it’s easy, and I’m certainly not going to say I’ve mastered it. Still, my sleep disorder has loosened its grip on me—or more precisely, I’ve gained the strength, balance, and flexibility to slip out from under it a bit. Granted, it’s a constant battle.

I’ve learned to respect and appreciate my sleep-related troubles. I now see them as what they are: warning signs.

Sure there are times when I find myself sleeping too much or too little, but these days, I immediately take notice. I don’t let more than 48 hours go by without sleeping, nor do I brush it off when I find myself sleeping 18 hours a day. In both cases, I call my doctor and book the next available appointment.

The sooner I make that call, the more likely I am to avoid a full-blown episode. So as annoying as they can be, I’ve learned to respect and appreciate my sleep related troubles. I now see them as what they are: warning signs. Like the check engine light on your dashboard. It’s a pain to take my car to the repair shop, but I know that waiting too long could mean hundreds or even thousands of dollars in repair fees that I’d never have incurred had I just taken the car to the shop right away.

Waiting too long to address sleep disturbances is no different. The longer you wait, the more likely you are to rack up more and higher fees—but in this case, the fees aren’t just financial. In fact, the monetary costs are no match for the potential personal and professional ones.

I know a lot of people who can get away with pulling all-nighters. I also know that I’m not one of them. As painful as it is to admit, I can’t live like Prince any more than I can sing or dance like him. I can, however, enjoy his performances with some peace of mind.