Oversleeping and Bipolar Disorder

I overslept last night. I think I woke up at my standard time this morning but then I, lazily and foolishly, turned over and went back to sleep. This seemed like a good idea in the moment, as I love sleep, but in the long run, my experience says that oversleeping with bipolar disorder is bad, bad, bad.

I got up and got into my bipolar routine as per the usual. Then, I was watching TV while eating breakfast and something a little sad happened on the show. An animal was hurt and killed. And I hate it when animals are hurt. Humans, somehow, you get used to seeing die on TV but innocent animals are so much harder for me to take. It might just be me.

But this sent into production a stream of tears and even sobbing. I was in such pain because of this tiny, make believe thing. And I know it’s the bipolar, the bipolar depression, specifically, rearing its ugly head. And I know it’s because I overslept. And, naturally, I feel like an absolute imbecile for letting it happen.

Bipolar Disorder and Oversleeping

As we all know by now, bipolar disorder is a circadian rhythm disorder. This means it deleteriously affects the body’s rhythms and this is most evidence in our sleep-wake cycles. This is why sleep in bipolar disorder is so critical. This is why the same bedtime every night and the same wake time every morning is of such absolute importance. We absolutely must create a standard rhythm to function as our bodies’ simply won’t do it for those of us with bipolar disorder. And oversleeping, is, in my experience, as detrimental as lack of sleep (although perhaps in a different way).

Quality sleep is critical in bipolar disorder but is oversleeping in bipolar as bad as not getting enough sleep?Of course, I know that. I’ve written about it and I’ve paid the price from experience. And when I give talks I tell people that sleep is the number one influencer of the next day’s mental health. And, yet, still I fuck up. Still I make mistakes. Still I don’t do what it is I know I need to do. All because of the lure of an extra hour’s sleep. It truly is idiocy on my part.

I, literally, cannot stop crying. I fell to my knees and begged someone to make the puddle brackish water forming beneath my eyes to stop getting bigger. This, too, is foolish on my part as there is no being, living or dead, that can make one iota of difference.

Lessons from Oversleeping and Bipolar

There are only three things to do at this point, and I know it. The first is, in spite of how I’ve written about myself and my choices here, to try not to beat myself up for making a mistake. Humans are like that. Bipolars are just humans. We make mistakes. We make choices that aren’t the best. Acceptance is the best medicine for that and not further self-flagellation.

And, secondly, I will put this bipolar and oversleeping experience in my bank of bipolar experiences and remember it the next time sleep’s addictive lure calls. I will remind myself of what is happening now and how I don’t want that to happen again. I will use this experience to make better choices in the future.

And until then, I will hunker down and pray for daylight. Today will be a very, very long, unfriendly day but I’ll survive it, and all the tears, and be here tomorrow. Tomorrow, I will set the alarm and be stricter. Because as much as I hate that lifestyle, I hate the cost of not having it more.

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About Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer, speaker and consultant from the Pacific Northwest. She has been living with bipolar disorder for 18 years and has written more than 1000 articles on the subject.

Natasha’s New Book

Find more of Natasha’s work in her new book: Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. Media inquiries can be emailed here.

  1. I struggle so hard with sleep. I find that a good physically challenging workout regime helped immensely. However when the moods strike and the self discipline to get up and be active knocks me out it is very difficult to get that relief. I am grateful for the friends and family members that
    see this and make me go with them for a quick walk or aerobics class. Physical exercise can be significantly beneficial to us with BPD. It took me 20 years to figure that out but it is a never ending learning experience with this disorder.

  2. Thank you so much for writing this post. I have known for some time that oversleeping always causes me problems. However, nobody would ever confirm that this was indeed was an issue in Bipolar. Sometimes it just feels so much better having something confirmed. :-)

  3. I deeply appreciate your article as it pinpoints the root of this debilitating problem I’ve been struggling with for over two years. I was diagnosed with bi-polar II a year and half ago at age 24. I was put on seroquel among other things to sleep (after cycling through 3 different meds for sleep seroquel was the ONLY thing that gave me the good nights’ sleep I’ve never had) Fast forward two years later, I am almost 26 and realizing that I have slept most of those two years away. I can’t stop crying over this loss and desperately trying to change. I’m reading on forums today about my seroquel killing all these people and having a mini meltdown from all of these risk factors and disillusions hitting me at once. I’m reading bi-polar forums for support and it seems to be the only thing I can do right now to force myself into the change I need.

    The oversleeping is the most debilitating part of this journey to recovery and this life choice I made to put myself through treatment (moving away from all my friends, drugs, parties, isolating myself) and it seems like a catch 22 with the haze created partly from the meds. I keep telling myself to stop blaming the meds but that part of my brain shuts down in the wee hours of the morning when I turnover to hit the snooze button. I feel trapped and helpless and thinking I might need to change therapists because this is essentially a problem your therapist helps you through if anyone.

    If you or anyone has any more suggestions on pulling yourself out of this vicious vortex I would love to hear your thoughts.

  4. I have struggled with Bipolar and depression for over 15 years. I was adopted through a private agency in 1972. I know nothing about my m back ground at all. No medical records, nothing. My parents who adopted me seem to choose to know nothing about this disease. my mother says, I went through a depressive state for about 2 months when you and your sister were young. my sister is a biological child. #1, You should NEVER blame your children for going through anything like this. my mother especially, say’s things like you will come out of this, take a walk, ride your bike ect.. This is not something you can just come out of. My mother was a teacher at my school. I know that she was too embarrassed to do anything about my problems since she worked in the school system and back then it was secretive when your child had problems. Now my mother says that it seems like everyone claims they have depression, bipolar, PTSD, and everything else related to mental problems, that have also caused me physical problems. I have sent her many articles over the years and she just doesn’t want to hear it. I lost my computer software job when the company went out of business. It was very hard to go to work so many days, but I had to. I lost my medical insurance and have been off my medication for 7 months. I can’t even explain the pain and agony I have went through. I just got my insurance back last week and am back on medication. The problem is that it takes about a month for it to really start working. On fathers day, my mom said, how are you feeling now that you are back on your medication. I started crying and told my 10 year old we needed to leave now. One thing that I have noticed in others comments is that they sleep all the time. I have the opposite problem. I have insomnia and its hard to believe, but I can go 4 days with no sleep at all. That is REALLY hard for me to function with that kind of lack of sleep. I have set the bar pretty low for my mother to ever understand. My father is supportive, but really doesn’t know much about these issues. he will take me to Dr. appointments when I am so tired that I feel I am not safe to drive. The last thing I want to do is hurt someone else, myself or my son. I was actually suicidal for the first time 3 weeks ago. I have been given every sleeping pill that exists, but they just don’t work for me. I figured I would get a hotel out of town and just end it!! But then I thought of my son not having his mother. I wish all of you well, and hope my medication works for me. If not, I will feel like an experiment again! I know many of you can relate to that. CC

  5. Oversleeping is one of my many escape mechanisms. Reading and watching TV are two others. They keep me wrapped up in a rich fantasy world, one that sometimes keeps me from dealing with what needs to be tended to. Real life can be just too damn overwhelming at times and it’s nice to take a break now and again. As long as I don’t allow it to become a habit, I don’t see the harm.

    Of course when I’m already in the depths of depression and stuggling to stay afloat that’s a different story altogether. Depression definately causes me to oversleep while anxiety and/or mania prevents it. Overeating or eating alot of junk food has the same effect. It’s so hard to find the motivation and discipline NOT to hibernate when I’m depressed even though intellectually I know that overseleeping will worsen the depression and therefore make it that much harder to dig myself out. It’s a slippery slope and it takes a lot of energy and willpower to keep fighting that battle day in and day out, week after week, month after month when I’m so low on reserves. After a while I can become battle weary

  6. So.. when I am “mixing”, I have shortened sleep and do not feel it, right off.
    When I am horrendously depressed.. I may still have shortened sleep BUT FEEL it for days and days.

    When I’m manic, I can go as long as 10 weeks at 3 hours a night, period (I did, once, lost all mental composure by week 10, admitted IP and placed on Seroquel 12.5mg. OMG I slept like a elephant slammed down upon the ground.. talk about a “minnie” :D).

    I am in a “mixer”, at the moment only moreso leaning into the depressive side… I can’t sleep and yet I cannot seem to stay awake and all I want to do, all day long (even while working that 8+ hour job) is sleep. All I want to do is sleep and sleep and sleep.. only, I can’t. Not only will my mind not shut off or slow down (many nights with eyes closed and thoughts still pinging) but I have to go to work.. .and function semi-normally.. at work.

    However; when I do get a solid 5 hours of sleep.. I do feel like a slightly refreshed flower.
    If I get 7 hours of solid sleep.. I feel charged up and awake and well.. energized to take on whatever the task – if anything – for the day.

    Now… being ramped up and having not a thing to stimulate one’s mind or challenge it… that is another story, in and of itself. Sleep comes at any moment, day or night.

  7. Thanks for another great article, Natasha. Much is said about insomnia but I’ve never read anything until now about the bad effects of oversleeping. For me, oversleeping or not getting enough sleep are equally bad. If I’m having insomnia, I will head straight on a path to mania. But before I was diagnosed, when I was on the depressive side of bipolar, I had hypersonmia. If I wasn’t at work, I was sleeping. And I fought sleep at work on top of it. I’d rather have the fight I have now and battle insomnia, but only because I have a miracle drug that makes me sleep, and sleep well, no matter how manic I become (thank you Seroquel). I have to be careful of getting the correct amount of sleep for me (which is 9-11 hours, any less-even 8 hours- and I’m a zombie). It’s not always easy to follow a schedule, and I beat myself up when I stray from the track. Sounds crazy but sometimes I have to allow the beating myself up, or I won’t keep in line! I hope tomorrow is a better day for you, Natasha!

  8. This is a direct contradiction to your article of January, 2014. No documentation on either.

    • Hi Helen,

      Actually, the Jan 2014 piece is about rest and this is about sleep. Those are different things. In both cases I am talking about my experience which you are free to take or leave as you wish.

      – Natasha Tracy

  9. I CAN NOT SLEEP MORE THAN 3HRS AND I AM WIDE AWAKE , ANY SUGGESTIONS FOR SLEEPING MEDS ?

    • I’m not a doctor, so I don’t know much about sleeping meds BUT I do know a lot about natural remedies that I have personally found to be very effective.
      1. Melatonin. This is a godsend for insomniacs. It works well for me.
      2. Valerian. Available in a pill form.
      3. White Chestnut. Good for racing thoughts.
      4. Passionflower
      5. Echinacea
      6. Calcium

      Sorry to hear about your sleep troubles and I hope this helps. Be careful what remedies you take for sleep and talk to your psychiatrist to make sure they won’t interact with your medications.

  10. During one of my most stable periods, I was actually sleeping 10-12 hours a night. I was able to do this because of my job at the time (professor with one lecture per week) and I had a completely dark room.

    I would wake up super-early as normal, filled with the Energizer Bunny need for movement, but I learned Shavasana and could get myself back to sleep.

    Anyhow, I’ve also had periods where oversleeping was very destructive, but those were periods of depression. So if anything, sleeping more has helped with the ups, not at all with the downs in my experience.

  11. These days, it is harder for me to get enough sleep and that can be just as disruptive as too much sleep – at least for me! I try to keep to my same schedule and routine every day which helps to keep me from derailing. Not that I always succeed but I try to get at least 6-7 hours and to get up at the same time each morning – weekends too.

    As Jacqui implied, having a pet (I have 3 cats) helps to keep their owners to a routine and additionally, they are innocent magical little beasties that brim over with unconditional love. A purring cat can be a very effective therapist I find…

  12. I have been oversleeping for about 4 years now and I’m very sure it has to do with the depression side of bipolar. It was only in the last twoyears that I “confessed” to my psychiatrist and my therapist that I was doing this. I felt so guilty about for the longest time….but coming “clean” helped me change the habit over time. The good thing is that I’ve have been making progress at waking up earlier. I used to sleep up to 14-15 hours per day. Now I sleep closer to 9 or 10. It feels about right for me right now. My goals is to get to the standard 8 hours of sleep. I’ve tried it and I often feel exausted at that hour. (6-7am) I feel like I used oversleeping as a coping mechanism. The day would be too long for me to deal with is what I used to think. The good news is that I actually look forward to having more time to do things now that I’m waking up earlier. I finally feel that I’m coping much better with the depression and I feel it’s because of my better management of sleep.

  13. Hi Natasha,

    just read your blog, and your right. sleeping whole day has no improvement in your mental illness. but most of the time, i give in on my sleeping habits, sometimes in an unusually hours. I no longer interested in jogging. right now, i m suffering in agoraphobia. I only go out of the house if I go to church every afternoon.

  14. I agree with you about the pets, Natasha. They certainly don’t guarantee great mental health, but they help to reinforce your daily routines (feeding and walking or changing litter boxes.) Great preventative measure.

    But I’m actually writing to say that bad “sleep hygiene” really messes with my brain too.

    Last night I slept over 10 hours, but my sleeping has been (usually) been at a shortage since we lost two close family members over 5 weeks in Dec/Jan. Basically my mood has been hovering around high to higher, and I’ve had to have most of my meds switched around, as of yesterday. I’ll have to wait and see what happens over the next few weeks!

  15. I’ve been struggling with this lately, because I’ve taken a job working 11pm-7am. By time I get home, get meds in me, and settle down its 9, and my son is home be 3. They we go to bed about 8, and I get up at 10. Not ideal, but it works. But on my days off, I don’t always get up at 10. And it’s amazing how bad this messes with me, and I still so it. Grrr…..

  16. I don’t like to give lectures/judge ~~ but, “imbecile” ??? How is showing your feelings, by “crying/sobbing”, make you “feel like an imbecile”? Is it not just another name for, “retarded”.

    How is name calling helping you or anyone for that matter?

    It hurts me when I hear name calling, it matters not who is doing to to whom. I cried when I read this piece and could not finish after you called yourself that horrid name. Maybe you corrected it later, but I could not go on. Does that make me an imbecile too?

    I can answer that; NO, it does not. It says I care and have feelings.

    I understand you are mostly talking about your sleep pattern etc, but, please, don’t call yourself a name that you would NEVER say to others.

    You are a wonderful woman with deep feelings, and personally, I believe that should be honored. When you cry, pat yourself on the back. Tell yourself how caring you are. Please! We all need to honor our feelings.

    • I think Natasha’s point is that she knows better and that this was a silly mistake to make as it had a significant impact – as shown by the resulting consequence.

      Everyone works differently: personally I benefit from honest with myself and recognizing my faults – I think it’s a thing that helps me to be a better person. As they say: The first step to resolving a problem is acknowledging that it exists. I don’t beat myself up about it but I do acknowledge when I’ve done something a bit dumb :)

      Some people prefer / need a more gentle approach.

      The key is to ensure that in forgiving ourselves and accepting our human errors we don’t simply drop out standards and condone the behavior. We need to find a way to use the emotions of disappointment with ourselves to motivate and drive what is required to correct that behavioral pattern so that we don’t keep making the same mistake.

      Just my 2c.

    • Hi Dee,

      I’m sorry I picked a word that you don’t like, but words are just words. They have the meaning with which we imbue them and not the other way around.

      I hear you say you want to honour sadness and crying. Okay, fine. But I honour all my thoughts and feelings and that includes the one in the above article. They were my real, genuine thoughts and that’s what I write about. I choose to accept them as much as anything else.

      And, no, imbecile is not the same as retarded: http://www.thesaurus.com/browse/imbecile?s=t

      – Natasha tracy

    • I dunno, to me she was merely explaining what had happened to HER and how SHE felt as a result of it all.
      I think she has every right to call herself an imbecile. That doesn’t mean she IS….just that she felt VERY strongly about over sleeping and was angry at herself about doing it b/c she knew better -and did it anyway.
      She had a meltdown, as in ”Bipolar meltdown”.
      I’ve called myself MUCH worse. But when I’m angry I say things I don’t really mean, like everybody else.
      Don’t you?
      I tried very hard to be perfect when I was a child. I don’t do that any more.
      I like to have some edge now.

  17. I was working on a newsletter for a friend last week who is a member of a Dog Club. I was putting together 2 pages for the In Memory section for a dog who had passed. I have met this woman and played with that dog but it wasnt like we got together every sunday or anything.
    I cried non stop for like 3 hours…..could not stop or if I did only could for a tiny little bit and would start again. I know exactly where you are coming from with this.
    I am still fighting to set up a schedule that I can stick with for sleep…but it is sooooo hard.
    Thanks for all the fantastic articles…you make me feel as if I am not alone out here!!

  18. Interesting post. For years my sleep patterns have been crazy. I could sleep 20 hours a day on a bad day. And then 4 months ago, after much hesitation, I got a new puppy. I have been feeling SO much better and positive recently, thinking the puppy has simply ‘cheered me up” but after having read you article it got me thinking. Since I have had him I have to stay awake until 11pm for his last wee, and I have to wake up at 7 am on the dot to let him out and go for a walk which gives me the perfect 8 hours sleep everyday of the week. I don’t always manage to stay up for the rest of the day yet but am really working on it.. goal is just having a short nap, regular hours, in the afternoon. So yes, I think you are right, my new rigid sleep pattern is definately having a positive effect. By the way am not suggesting you all rush out and by puppies fellow sufferers!!