Bipolar blogger Natasha Tracy offers exclusive insight into the world of bipolar disorder.See all posts »
Bipolar Disorder and Fixing Your Circadian Rhythm
See how your circadian rhythym—or your body clock—can affect bipolar disorder
Numerous neurological systems have been implicated in bipolar disorder, including those for the circadian rhythm, sometimes known as your body clock.
Your circadian rhythm is the biochemical, physiological and behavioral processes that occur in a 24-hour cycle. Your circadian rhythm has influence over what you feel and when you feel it, for example, when you get tired and go to sleep.
ADHD and Sleep
And as many people have noticed, people with a mental illness often have trouble getting to sleep. People with ADHD, for example, often can’t get to sleep and may sleep through two or three alarms in the morning. One theory is that people with ADHD have an altered circadian rhythm set to sleep between the hours of 4 a.m. and noon—hardly convenient for most people.
Bipolar Disorder Genes and Sleep
Similarly, it’s known that bipolar disorder is strongly associated with a disruption of circadian rhythm. Or put another way, people with bipolar disorder have messed up sleep cycles.
One of the reasons for this appears to be two altered genes that are associated with bipolar disorder and the circadian rhythm: the CLOCK ((really) circadian locomotor output cycles kaput) and GSK3Beta (glycogen synthase kinase) genes. Both of these genes have been shown to have their actions corrected by lithium.
How to Help Your Circadian Rhythm
A large part of what triggers your rhythm is sunlight, and that’s something most of us don’t get enough of.
Ideally, when we wake up, we should all spend half-an-hour in the sun to trigger the “wake-up” response in our body. However, seeing as many of us aren’t going to do that, a light box is one alternative. A light box replicates the light you should be getting from the sun. However, light boxes are not risk-free, particularly for those with bipolar disorder as they can (rarely) induce mania. See here for more information.
Another important part of helping your rhythm is to have a set schedule that you keep to every day. This mean you need to go to bed, wake up and take your meds at the same time every day—yes, even on the weekends. This strict rhythm is going to help teach your body when it needs to release chemicals like melatonin, into your system to cause you to go to sleep at night without the help of a sleeping aid.
There will be more information on the role of light and darkness and their role in bipolar disorder to come.