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Causes of Bipolar Disorder

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What Role Does Environment and Lifestyle Play in Bipolar Disorder?

Along with a genetic link to bipolar disorder, research reveals that children of bipolar parents are often surrounded by significant environmental stressors, such as living with a parent who has a tendency toward mood swings, alcohol or substance abuse, financial and sexual indiscretions, and hospitalizations. Although not all bipolar offspring will develop bipolar disorder, many children of bipolar parents do progress to a different psychiatric disorder such as ADHD, major depression, schizophrenia, or substance abuse.

Environmental stressors also play a role in triggering bipolar episodes in those who are genetically predisposed. For example, children growing up in bipolar families may live with a parent who lacks control of moods or emotions. Some children may live with constant verbal or even physical abuse if the bipolar parent is not medicated or using alcohol or drugs.

Can Lack of Sleep Worsen the Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?

Some findings show that people with bipolar disorder have a genetic predisposition to sleep-wake cycle problems that may trigger symptoms of depression and mania.

The problem for those with bipolar disorder, however, is that sleep loss may lead to a mood episode such as mania (elation) in some patients. Worrying about losing sleep can increase anxiety, thus worsening the bipolar mood disorder altogether. Once a sleep-deprived person with bipolar disorder goes into the manic state, the need for sleep decreases even more.

In one study, researchers interviewed 39 bipolar patients with primarily manic or depressed episodes to determine the presence of social rhythm disruptions during the two months prior to the onset of the mood. (A social rhythm disruption is a disturbance in routine that affects the sleep/wake cycle.)

When comparing the results with volunteers in the control group, researchers concluded that most people with bipolar disorder experience at least one social rhythm disruption prior to a major mood episode. In addition, the researchers found that social rhythm disruption affected more bipolar patients with mania than the patients with depression. Their findings concluded that 65% of the patients with bipolar disorder had at least one disruption in their daily rhythm in the eight weeks before the onset of a manic episode.

Talk to your doctor if you have difficulty falling asleep or maintaining sleep. There are several non-addictive sleep medicines available that can help resolve sleep problems. Also, cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to be a helpful treatment for patients with bipolar disorder who have poor sleep or anxiety and fears about poor sleep.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on June 26, 2013
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