Nearly every night of my childhood was a restless fantasy world inside my mind. It took me a long time to fall asleep. My parents were great and they kept my bedtime pretty consistent. They had no way to know or help what happened after they put me to bed. Racing thought after racing thought in an infinite sequence. It is like watching television in my mind but the only thing that is playing are many short commercials that eventually repeated over and over. I would fantasize about normal kid stuff like being a ninja, or a football player, or build my future dream house room by room, conversations at school, previous friends, or think about playing with my dog, and think about my grandparents, wondering where our next move was going be (my dad was a Marine).
This sounds like a very typical, normal child’s mind right? Well, for me each thought went into extreme detail and would cycle through different topics very rapidly. The thoughts were always coated with a very heavy emotional state and I would sort of obsess about each topic. I felt overwhelmed. I would pray and ask God to help me sleep, I would try to count sheep, and I would sing nursery rhymes in my head to bring me back to a sense of simplicity and innocence from these sometimes scary and overwhelming thoughts.
With a bedtime of about 7:30-8:00 I wouldn’t typically fall asleep until between 2:00 and 3:00am. Once I fell asleep I sometimes had what are called night terrors, and I would cry out loud in my sleep. Children with Bipolar disorder are particularly prone to night terrors because of our extremely low threshold for arousal (easily sad, happy, angry, reactive). Studies have shown that night terrors usually occur in between sleep stages in and out of REM sleep. Studies have also shown that children who actually dream during these night terrors recall some sort of predator in human or animal form. I recall my recurring dream of an animal chasing me, for about two years. I can still recall the very last time I had this dream, I yelled at the animal and told it to stop. I never had the dream again. My parents asked me on occasion if I remember what happened the night before, I usually did.
On some nights I would go into my parents room and stand at the foot of their bed as if to feel a sense of calm from them because they were sleeping and I wanted to be too. They would sometimes wake up and as anyone could imagine they were startled to see me standing in there room. They were very soothing but couldn’t really save me from my own brain chemistry.
Now as an adult I take medication at night so I do not have to deal with trying to sleep with racing thoughts. Its one of the most frustrating things about bipolar disorder. Sometimes on the weekend I just roll with it and craft things with leather, draw in a notebook, or write music with my guitar until Im ready to take the meds and sleep. The feeling of comfort and restfulness that most people get does not come to my brain naturally. I cannot recall the last time I have felt a cozy relaxing feeling right before falling asleep. Now it is just a forced uncomfortable drugged feeling from medication.
If your child/teenager has trouble falling asleep, it could be due to increased activity in the brain due to a manic episode from bipolar disorder. See my other Blogs for the diagnostic criteria for bipolar disorder and symptoms.