How to Establish a Daily Routine to Help in Managing Bipolar Disorder

By Adam Cook

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterized by extreme mood swings. Extremely high and low periods may last hours, days, weeks, or months. More than five million people in the United States live with a form of bipolar disorder. Typically, symptoms of the disorder appear in the late teens or early adult years, but children can experience them too. Women are more likely than men to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder. There are varying opinions on treating bipolar disorder, but most individuals with the disorder and their medical doctors agree that establishing a daily routine is helpful.

Ellen Frank and her Western Psychiatric Institute & Clinic colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh founded the Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy (IPSRT) to help people with bipolar disorder reduce their symptoms. Routines are crucial for managing bipolar disorder because they provide stability and minimize unexpected stressors. Having a plan gives individuals with bipolar disorder the ability to plan and take control over their lives; they feel empowered when they are able to establish a routine to better manage their symptoms. We offer a few tips to help you or a loved one living with bipolar disorder establish such a routine.

Establish a healthy sleep routine

Sleep routines are one of the most important routines for people with bipolar disorder to establish. As Frank and her colleagues found, people with bipolar disorder experience sleep and circadian rhythm disruptions that contribute to their symptoms. By getting enough sleep, people with bipolar disorder avoid sleep deprivation and minimize triggers for their manic episodes. To establish a healthy sleep routine, it helps to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each night and day.

It also helps to extend the sleep routine to an end-of-day routine. Perhaps you will have dinner, go for a walk, watch TV, read, and go to bed each night. Choosing end-of-day activities that are relaxing and quiet helps ease people to sleep better than exercise, eating, or other activities that stimulate you instead of relax you.

Eat at regular intervals

Just as sleeping on a set schedule keeps moods level, eating on a set schedule stabilizes blood sugar levels and moods. People with bipolar disorder often choose to eat smaller meals every three to four hours; these smaller meals help people feel less overwhelmed by the thought of cooking large meals, help prevent hunger that can lead to overeating, and help people stick to a schedule by fitting eating into a larger daily routine that includes sleep, work, exercise, and pleasure.

Structure the day to maximize productivity

Unstructured time is detrimental to people with bipolar disorder because it can lead to depression, loneliness, and potential self-medication with alcohol. Developing routines that include housework, volunteer hours, regular exercise, group meetings, time with friends and family, and other activities that provide a purpose, structures the day in healthy ways for people with bipolar disorder. Full days keep them focused and help them to stick to their eating and sleeping routines as well.

Take medication regularly

Of course, medications play a large role in the life of a person with bipolar disorder. Taking medication regularly must be part of a routine to help patients manage their disorder more successfully. Some people set alarms on their computers, smartphones, or tablets to remind them to take their pills. Other people rely on pill boxes labeled with days and times to stay on track.

Incorporating medication into your routine is easier when you have a set routine for your entire day. If you take medication with meals, be sure to eat at the same time each day so you are more likely to take your pills. Or, if you take your medication in the morning and night, place your pills near your toothbrush so you remember to take them when you brush your teeth. Putting your medication in convenient locations that you see throughout your day will optimize your chances of remembering to take it on time.

It is possible to manage bipolar disorder, especially if you set and stay true to a daily routine. Planning your days and knowing what to do and when to do it empowers individuals with bipolar disorder to take back control and manage triggers, lows and highs, and symptoms.



Adam Cook has a strong understanding of the devastation that can be caused by addiction. He recently lost a close friend to an addiction-related suicide. In an effort to better educate himself and to help others, he created, a site that provides addiction and mental health resources. When he isn’t working or adding to his website, he’s prepping for his first triathlon.