Bipolar disorder is known for causing severe mood swings that include bouts of depression and mania. During episodes of mania, or emotional highs, you may feel extremely happy and energetic. However, your mood can shift to a more depressed state very suddenly. You may feel hopeless or sad and be less interested in doing activities you normally enjoy.
During these fluctuations in mood and behavior, it’s common to experience excessive fatigue. Fatigue is characterized by an overall feeling of extreme tiredness and a lack of energy. Although it’s often accompanied by a desire to sleep more than usual, fatigue isn’t the same as feeling drowsy or sleepy. When you feel fatigued, you don’t have the motivation to do anything. Even getting out of bed in the morning can seem like an impossible task. Fatigue often occurs during times of depression, but it can also be a problem during manic phases, as mania often causes insomnia and restlessness.
Fatigue can be one of the most debilitating symptoms of bipolar disorder. It may impact your ability to perform daily activities, as well as your overall well-being. However, making certain lifestyle changes may sometimes prevent the negative effects of fatigue. Here are seven adjustments you can make to help fight the fatigue associated with bipolar disorder.
Make Over Your Sleep Routine
Unfortunately, fatigue is often a vicious cycle in bipolar disorder. High energy levels and restlessness during mania can make it difficult to sleep at night, causing you to feel very tired during the day. During a depressed state, however, you may feel fatigued all the time. You may not have the motivation or energy to do daily tasks, such as getting the mail or making meals.
One of the best ways to break this cycle is to establish a sleep routine. You should try to:
- go to bed at the same time every night
- wake up at a similar time each morning
- eliminate daytime naps
- avoid using electronics within an hour before bed
- take a warm bath prior to bedtime
- practice meditation or deep breathing exercises at night
It might be difficult to establish a sleep routine at first, but it’s important to stick to it as much as possible. You may need assistance from a loved one to help you stay on track. Once you establish new sleeping habits, you will feel less tired during the day.
Exercise for a Boost of Energy
When you feel fatigued, exercise is probably the last thing you want to do. However, once you get motivated to start exercising, it can make a huge difference. Aside from improving your physical health, exercise can help ease your fatigue and make you feel better overall.
Physical activity stimulates the production of various brain chemicals that make you feel happier and more relaxed. This can help make you feel more energetic and less tired during episodes of depression. Exercise can even help you sleep better at night, which will help reduce your daytime fatigue. Exercising also improves cognitive function. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, people who exercise regularly have a 25-percent less chance of developing depression or another related mental health disorder.
Although exercise can help prevent the fatigue associated with bipolar disorder, it’s important to keep in mind that it will only work as long as you take part in it. You will need to exercise at least three to five times per week for 30 minutes to see an improvement in symptoms. People with extreme fatigue should start off slow and work their way up to a longer workout as they gain more energy.
Limit Caffeine Consumption
Caffeine provides a sudden boost in energy and mental function, which is why many people rely on coffee or energy drinks to get through the day. However, the “crash” that happens afterward may make you feel more tired than you did before. Drinking caffeinated drinks later in the day can also make it difficult to sleep at night, causing you to feel tired the following day.
According to the Mayo Clinic, 400 mg of caffeine is the maximum amount of caffeine that should be consumed by adults per day. This equates to about 4 cups of coffee or two “energy shot” drinks. If you need to reduce your intake of caffeine, consider doing so gradually. Sharp decreases in caffeine consumption can cause headaches and make fatigue worse.
Another problem with caffeine is that it has diuretic effects. This means that caffeinated drinks increase the production of urine, which you can cause you to become dehydrated. Dehydration is another contributing factor to low energy levels.
Staying hydrated can fight help fatigue and increase energy, so it’s important to drink water throughout the day. The recommended amount of water to drink is eight to 10 glasses per day. However, you will need to drink more water if you exercise.
You can also keep your body hydrated by:
- avoiding excessive caffeine consumption
- abstaining from alcohol
- drinking water with meals and between meals
- eating more water-containing fruits and vegetables, such as watermelon, lettuce, and cucumbers
Increase Your Intake of Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient that’s mostly found in red meat, poultry, and other animal products. Aside from keeping the body's nerves and blood cells healthy, vitamin B12 helps with brain function. Deficiencies in this vitamin can cause low energy levels and fatigue.
The Office of Dietary Supplements recommends a daily vitamin B12 intake of 2.4 micrograms for adults. Vitamin B12 can also be found in the following foods:
- red meat
- fortified cereals
If you aren’t getting enough vitamin B12 from foods, talk to your primary care provider about supplementation.
Choose Your Medicines Wisely
Many of us rely on over-the-counter medications for relief from common aches and pains as well as illnesses. However, many of these drugs also cause drowsiness, which can make fatigue much worse. Common culprits include:
- antihistamines (found in many allergy medicines)
- cold medicine
- cough syrups and tablets
When buying these medicines, look for versions labeled “non-drowsy.” You should also ask your primary care provider if there are any over-the-counter drugs that can interfere with the effectiveness of other medications you’re taking.
Catch a Few Rays
Increasing your exposure to sunlight can help improve your mood and give you a boost of energy when you’re feeling fatigued. This may be because sunlight makes it easier for your body to absorb vitamin D, which is an essential nutrient for brain function. A recent study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders also found that frequent exposure to sunlight might help prevent the onset of bipolar symptoms, including fatigue.
When you do go outside to catch a few rays, make sure to apply sunscreen to prevent sunburns and skin damage.
It’s important to note that you may still experience fatigue even after you make these lifestyle changes. If fatigue persists, you should speak with your primary care provider about your medication. Certain drugs, such as mood stabilizers, can increase drowsiness and make fatigue worse. Your primary care provider may be able to prescribe another medication if your current medication is contributing to your fatigue. However, you should never change or stop medication dosages without checking first with the health care provider who prescribed these medications.