What’s triple chronotherapy like? Did it work?

I followed the Triple Chronotherapy protocol Thursday – Monday last week. I wrote in laymen’s terms about circadian rhythm and Chronotherapy when I started and then copious updates afterwards. (At the end of this post you can see rough numbers tracking mood during my treatment.)

It’s important to note that I did this without medical supervision and so my thoughts cannot necessarily be generalized to what would happen in a clinical setting. And I don’t need to tell you this, but don’t try this at home kids. Bad things can happen.

During Day One of Chronotherapy

Staying up for 36 hours isn’t fun. I would imagine most people instinctively know this, but I can now say with certainty that 36 hours is too long to be awake.

The changes I noticed during this time were:

  • A lot of dizziness, difficulty going from sitting to standing
  • Lack of coordination
  • Nausea, lack of hunger
  • General feeling of weakness and unwellness
  • Depletion of cognitive ability
  • Disconnection from the world around me

This was not fun in the slightest and the only thing that kept me grounded was a friend that stayed up with me.

From what I understand, it is during this period that a reduction in depressive symptoms occurs. I did not find this and in fact, find it almost unfathomable that someone would actually feel any degree of “good” during this time. I certainly didn’t. I was gripping my psyche with both hands trying desperately not to let it fly in every direction.

During the 36 hours I experienced moments of really nasty panic. I felt overwhelmed by breathing. It was horrible. It took everything I had to sit still, remain calm and not break down.

And looking at the numbers (below) it appears there was some reduction in depressive symptoms after around 30 hours of sleep deprivation. I wouldn’t have said I wasn’t depressed though, I would say I was feeling so sick and so dissociative that the depression was pushed aside.

Interesting to note: after the 36 hours, I could not sleep. I was exhausted, but eyes closed, in bed, in pitch black, I couldn’t sleep. I’m not sure whether that’s typical but my friend who was with me also had trouble sleeping at this time.

chronotherapy get upDuring Day Two of Chronotherapy

Not surprisingly, not being able to sleep in the prescribed time and then getting up seven hours later was a special kind of pain. Notable but survivable. Also not surprisingly (to me) I was more depressed. It is actually noted in the literature that while extended periods of wakefulness may decrease depression, even short naps can erase those improvements. (FYI this protocol is designed to thwart this effect.)

I spent most of this morning, right after the first sleep, seriously depressed and exhausted. Like, I-can’t-move kind of exhaustion.

I took a sleeping pill to induce the next sleep. I’m not sure if this is strictly allowed in the protocol but I wasn’t about to not sleep yet again.

During Day Three of Chronotherapy

Day three was another white-knuckle day trying desperately to hang onto consciousness and reason. I was so unhappy to be awake. Again, the people around me were the only things keeping me sane-ish. By this point much of the physical pain had subsided but the exhaustion was in my bones. I was still exhibiting notably decreased cognitive function. I didn’t want to drive or do anything that would depend on cognition. My brain felt like sludge. I had a hard time following even simple thoughts. I was a useless mess.

During Day Four of Chronotherapy

Waking up at 5 AM the fourth day was pretty much impossible. I was so exhausted it was physically painful to try to get out of bed. This is when I officially gave up and slept for an additional 2 hours.

Since the Chronotherapy

broken chronotherapy clock

I have been extremely tired, stupid and depressed since I tried this treatment, far more than before. I’ve never done well with a lack of sleep but I am surprised that after days and days I can’t seem to feel awake or very sharp. I suspect the increased depression has something to do with that.

I would actually anticipate an increase in depression after a treatment like this, so it’s not a huge surprise, but I figured I’d never know if I didn’t try.  And part of this increased depression is simply due to failing yet another treatment. I went through all this serious pain and suffering for nothing. Well, to get worse, actually. It’s a real kick in the head. Seriously.

Would I Recommend Chronotherapy?

This is a question for you and your doctor. I think that if the numbers quoted on the Program in Psychiatric Chronotherapy web site are accurate (50% – 60% response) then it’s well worth considering. It’s another option. When other options don’t work, you try what is left. All the protocol and research is online so even if your doctor isn’t familiar with it, they can read up.

But what I can tell you for sure is that it’s no fun and bad things can happen to you both psychologically and physically so you need to talk to your doctor. Me, I can’t see ever trying it again. Ever.

Tracking of Mood During Chronotherapy

These numbers are very rough and supplied by me during chronotherapy which means they are completely subjective. They just give an idea of what I was thinking at the time, if you’re interested.

Thur 5PM Fri 2AM Fri 9AM Fri 6PM Sat 2AM Sat 8AM Sat 1PM Sat 7PM Sun 7PM Mon 6AM
Depression 5 4 5 3 6 7 4 4 5 6
Anxiety 7 5 7 5 3 3 3 4 3 2
Energy 4 4 4 3 2 2 4 3 3 2
Hypomania 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
Panic 0 0 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

If anyone out there has tried anything like this, I’d be very interested in hearing from you.


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.


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