Published: Wed, May 16, 2018
Medical | By Marta Holmes

Disruption of Circadian Rhythm Negatively Impacts Mental Health

Disruption of Circadian Rhythm Negatively Impacts Mental Health

People with the lower relative amplitude were at higher risk of mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder.

A lower circadian amplitude denotes less distinction, in terms of activity levels, between active and rest periods of the day. They occur in plants, animals and throughout biology, and are fundamental for maintaining health in humans, particularly mental health and wellbeing.

Researchers from the University of Glasgow in Britain found a regular sleep-wake cycle avoids depression, bipolar disorder and other conditions.

It was also associated with greater mood instability, higher neuroticism scores, more subjective loneliness, lower happiness and health satisfaction, and slower reaction time.

The scientists studied people's circadian rhythms, which control functions such as immune systems, sleep patterns, and the release of hormones, to measure the daily rest-activity rhythms, also known as the relative amplitude.

For the new study, an global team led by University of Glasgow psychologist Laura Lyall analysed data - taken from the UK Biobank, one of the most complete long-term health surveys ever done - on 91,105 people aged 37 to 73.

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Individuals with lower relative amplitude were at greater risk of several adverse mental health outcomes, even after adjusting for confounding factors, such as age, sex, lifestyle, education and previous childhood trauma.

Dr. Laura Lyall, research associate in mental health and wellbeing at Glasgow University and lead author of the study, said in a statement: "In the largest such study ever conducted, we found a robust association between disruption of circadian rhythms and mood disorders".

The study was funded by the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine and published in the peer-reviewed journal The Lancet Psychiatry.

A new study revealed that there was a connection between biological clock disruption and increased risk for mental health issues such as depression and bipolar disorder. In other words, the findings can not determine whether it was the disrupted internal clock which caused the mood disorder or vice versa.

This study adds to the evidence that good sleep at night and activity during the day is linked to better mental health.

However, the researcher said that the findings showed observational associations rather than cause and effect, and "cannot tell us whether mood disorders and reduced well-being cause disturbed rest-activity patterns, or whether disturbed circadian rhythmicity makes people vulnerable to mood disorders and poorer well-being", Lyall said.

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This study had some limitations.

"So we need to think about ways to help people tune in to their natural rhythms of activity and sleeping more effectively".

The age group in the study is 37 to 73 and so skewed towards middle-aged and older people, who may be less likely to experience mental health problems for the first time.

But it's not just what you do at night, he said, it's what you do during the day - trying to be active during the day and inactive in darkness, he said.

This study raises more questions about how healthy it is to work night-time or irregular hours, and the 24-hour nature of modern life.

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