Beating insomnia in bipolar disorder is a serious challenge. In the past, I have recommended sleep hygiene as the primary way of handling insomnia. And while this is very important, quite frankly, it just doesn’t work for everyone. I do it, and sometimes still don’t sleep – even with sleeping pills. So is there something better for beating insomnia in bipolar disorder? Maybe. I have discovered two mobile applications (apps) that help with sleep in new ways.
Beating Insomnia in Bipolar Disorder with a Mind Machine
This is going to sound weird, but it seems you can induce sleep (or, at least, increase the likelihood of sleep) by playing specific tones in each ear (binaural tones). I know this sounds crazy, but I’ve been doing it, and it really has been working. This is done in combination with flashing lights and is called a mind machine.
Mind machines have been around for some time but were very expensive and so on the fringe. Apps are much better as they cost less than $5.00. It’s a small investment for something that might work.
It’s very simple. You just download the app, put in headphones, and listen to a program designed to help put you to sleep. In the case of the Android one (which is what I use), you also place the phone over your closed eyes to get the flashing-light effect, too. That’s it. Not surprisingly, the tones and lights are somewhat soothing, but they’re also seemingly just average tones and lights. Nevertheless, they seem to put me to sleep (along with good sleep hygiene).
(Links to programs at the end.)
Beat Insomnia in Bipolar with a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia App
Okay, wait, just because you’ve tried cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), doesn’t mean you’ve tried the version specifically for insomnia (CBT-I). There is a great app that walks you through keeping a sleep diary, psychoeducation, sleep hygiene, relaxation skills, even things to do while staying up. It’s called a “killer app” by Jim Phelps MD, the bipolar section editor at Psychiatric Times.
This is something I haven’t tried yet but it is by a department of Veterans Affairs, and I have tried other apps by them and they tend to be amazing (and evidence-based).
Evidence for Phone Apps to Beat Insomnia in Bipolar
For mind machines, I can’t find a lot of evidence, I admit; and I can’t promise you that the positive reaction I’ve had is something beyond the placebo effect or something you will experience. Nevertheless, I’m impressed enough by it to suggest people try it. Like I said, it’s a very small investment for something that can help so much.
As for the CBT-I app, there is evidence that CBT-I works as well as or better than medication for beating insomnia in four to six weeks and provides lifelong benefits without the risk or cost of medication. And not only does Dr. Phelps recommend it, but Dr. Holly O’Reilly, head of the armed services’ Deployment Psychology program, encourages its use by clinicians, calling it a “great supportive tool”. Note that it is not designed to replace a therapist, but, rather, work in conjunction with him or her.
Which Phone Apps Beat Insomnia in Bipolar Disorder?
The mind machine apps are:
- Mindroid for Android phones, some free features, some you pay for (integrates with Sleep as Android – an app worth using with it to automatically track your sleep quality)
- Attractor for iPhones, sounds like a similar feature set
The CBT-I App Is: