Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness characterized by alternating periods of elevated and depressed mood. Sleep disturbances in bipolar disorder are present during all stages of the condition and exert a negative impact on overall course, quality of life, and treatment outcomes. We examine the partnership between circadian system (process C) functioning and sleep-wake homeostasis (process S) on optimal sleep functioning and explore the role of disruptions in both systems on sleep disturbances in bipolar disorder. A convergence of evidence suggests that sleep problems in bipolar disorder result from dysregulation across both process C and process S systems. Biomarkers of depressive episodes include heightened fragmentation of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, reduced REM latency, increased REM density, and a greater percentage of awakenings, while biomarkers of manic episodes include reduced REM latency, greater percentage of stage I sleep, increased REM density, discontinuous sleep patterns, shortened total sleep time, and a greater time awake in bed. These findings highlight the importance of targeting novel treatments for sleep disturbance in bipolar disorder.
Keywords: bipolar disorder; circadian rhythms; sleep–wake homeostasis.