December of Darkness: Why I'm Dreading Winter (Bipolar Disorder Sleep Problems)

Nov 8, 2014

A mom describes the miserable winters when her daughter bipolar sleep patterns get worse. #kidswithbipolar #bipolardisorder

I am not looking forward to winter. In fact, I'm dreading it.

This is the first year I haven't looked forward to winter. I usually appreciate the change in time and weather. I look forward to fireplaces, bonfires, hot chocolate and all the other cozy things that come with the season.

Not this year. Not even a little. You see, for the last two winters, I haven't seen the light of day. 

Literally. And I hate it.

December of Darkness: Why I'm Dreading Winter

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The Onset of Sleep Problems in My Daughter

I'll never forget the fall of 2012. That's when Lorelai's sleep patterns turned around. 

This had never been an issue before. The sleep problems were the first symptom I saw in her siblings, whether they were 11, 12 or 20 at the age of onset. Lorelai's illness has been different. She was born with bipolar disorder. She's always battled sleep to a degree, but she could sleep. Until she was 9 anyway.

That year I was sucked into a crazy sleeping routine. In December of 2012, I never saw sunlight. Ever. After a couple of weeks, I noticed I was irritable, weepy, angry, depressed. It was terrible. I was miserable.

"If this schedule is doing this to me, no wonder people with bipolar disorder have mood problems!"

In time, I was able to get myself off that schedule. I was able to resume my normal life. I also realized it would not be so easy for her.

People with bipolar disorder have a broken body clock. There's not a lot I can do for that, but I did accidentally discovered the schedule that works for her. The bad news is it doesn't last. 

  • The first time she was on that schedule, it lasted 6 days. 
  • The second time, it lasted two weeks. 
  • Recently, at the end of summer, she was able to maintain being up in the day and in bed at night for about 6 weeks before she fell off track.
She always falls of track.

Winter Is the Enemy

Last year, it happened again. 

December. Darkness. Breakfast at dinner time. Lunch at midnight. Dinner at 5 in the morning. I hate it. 

I've been hoping it wouldn't happen again this year. 

"Surely now that we know ways to get her up in the morning or switch her schedule around, it will not happen this year."


I cannot control the longer nights. I cannot control the time change. It would appear, also, that I can't control her sleep in the winter. I cannot control her racing thoughts.

I've done the usual things to help. I've done the things that switch her sleeping habits around. She's struggling. She's mood cycling. She's depressed. She hates that she can't wake up before 3 p.m. Soon it will be 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 p.m. before she awakens each day!

I Don't Want to Be Stuck on the Bipolar Sleeping Pattern

It's horrible.

Artificial light will be our only light. I won't be able to think. I won't be able to write. She'll be depressed. She'll be weepy. She'll be raging. And then she'll be depressed and weepy again.

And all I can do is wait it out, longing for the day when we can see the sun again.

**Update: I wrote this in 2014. In 2015, I figured out a few more natural ways to treat bipolar disorder. As of August 2016, she has had zero symptoms of bipolar disorder. We are now treating borderline, but we have gotten rid of all things related to bipolar. - Updated 12/25/2018**

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  1. Hugs to you. Winter is really hard for some, and it sounds like it's extremely hard for your family. Too bad you can't migrate south of the equator for the winter. :) In the deepest part of winter here, the sun rises at 8am and sets again at 4pm. Short days. Makes it hard to want to do anything.

    1. Thank you, Shannen. Oh! I already know where I want to go... Tarija, Bolivia! It's never very hot or cold and the living is cheap. ;-)

  2. Hello Michelle,

    I am a mom to two creative, sensitive, out of the box thinkers, both with emotional disorders. My daughter has been staying up all night and sleeping all day for a year. She finally got sick of staying home - we were home schooling because the "Arts High School in Baltimore" ( think Fame) who accepted her as a freshman in 2010, wouldn't accommodate with an IEP for her disability, eventually causing her to have several breakdowns from stress over curriculum expectations. Now she is bravely beginning again at a charter school in our neighborhood - Baltimore City Schools granted an IEP after TWO YEARS of fighting. We have incredibly gifted young children who deserve so much better accommodations and mental health supports. I hope this helps knowing you are not alone. I, too, would love to move to Florida where it is warm and sunny, with options of swimming in the Gulf of Mexico every day!

    1. Laura,

      Thanks for sharing a piece of your story. I have four kids who are diagnosed with bipolar disorder (that's 4 out of 5, mind you). They all have their sleeping issues, of course. Hers affects me a little more because she's still young enough that I have to take care of her (as in - I can't leave her to cook all of her meals all night and someone has to homeschool her, even if that's at night). I'm in Florida, but the daylight ending at 5:30 p.m. rather than 9 p.m. really takes a toll on Lorelai's moods.

      I hope your daughter does well at her new Charter School.

  3. That is very difficult for you and your daughter. Another reason its good you homeschool- she would not be able to function in school.

    1. Agreed. I've mentioned that in other posts. She'd have to be on some hardcore drugs to overcome this!

  4. Angie T11/10/2014

    As someone who suffers from bipolar disorder, I know that she appreciates you being there even though she may not be able to express it. I have been bipolar since I was young, but it was not diagnosed until I was in my early 20's. My parents just thought of me as hyperactive, depressed and angry from earlier life events, and believed that harsh discipline was the answer to everything. I would have loved to have the care and support that your daughter has. You are an amazing and caring mother!

    1. Angie, Thank you for this lovely comment. I'm trying my best. It's not always easy.

  5. I'm not a big fan of winter either, it's so dark, and dreary, and I'm almost always depressed come January.

    1. I'm so sorry, Ticia. I know what the depression feels like. I'll be in it soon. I just did Night #1 of this "nightmare." I hate it so much I've begun anticipating the depressed state. That's not helping, I'm sure.

  6. We have kids who deal with anxiety/trauma related insomnia and that's rough, so I cant imagine what it would be like to be up all night every night for an extended period of time with you child. You are a strong mother and your kids are lucky to have you.

    1. Thank you, Dana! I appreciate that so much. I often feel I'm traveling through those dark months alone - no one realizes I'm doing it and no one has a clue what it's like. Maybe that's why I wrote this. I just want someone to know I'm out here in the night.

  7. Anonymous11/10/2014

    I have some similar problems with my son who's 13.He rarely is asleep before 3am and at first I thought it was merely insomnia and stress relating to his daddy's death two years ago.But I am starting to suspect that he's bi-polar.He is never up before noon unless I just totally make him get up and then he's so tired and cranky that we can't get anything accomplished anyway.He has mood swings just like his older sister who's 29 and has been formally diagnosed with bi- polar and borderline personality disorder.And he has all kinds of energy at night,it's not so much that he doesn't want to go to bed,he just can't settle down emotionally enough to sleep.And he's scared to stay in his own bedroom so I mostly just let him use my room,it's a big room with a kingsize bed and small couch.Plenty of room for me and him and three chihuahuas and occasionally the cat although he usually runs off.

  8. Wintertime is hard for me, and I don't have a disorder (that I know about, at least). My son & I also have a hard time sleeping and don't get a lot accomplished in a day, as we're always tired. I can't imagine if it were worse than it is, so I feel for you & Lorelai. Looking forward to better times ahead, for all of us!


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