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Disruption of daily rhythms linked to mental health problems

17 May 2018

The brain's hard-wired circadian time-keeper governs day-night cycles, influencing sleep patterns, the release of hormones and even body temperature.

Researchers from the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom noted that a regular sleep-wake cycle is "crucial" for mental health and well-being, as they associate certain forms of disruption with mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder.

"This is important globally because more and more people are living in urban environments that are known to increase the risk of circadian disruption and, by extension, adverse mental health outcomes".

Researchers analysed activity data in more than 91,000 participants aged 37-73 from the UK Biobank general population cohort to obtain an objective measure of patterns of rest and activity rhythms.

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Research suggests disruptions to natural rhythm may cause decline in memory and attention span and affect mental health.

The researchers found that maintaining a healthy internal body clock, which basically means staying more active during the day and sleeping properly at night, has a positive impact on the overall health of a person.

Mathematical modelling was used to investigate associations between low relative amplitude (reflecting greater activity during rest periods and/or daytime inactivity) and lifetime risk of mood disorder, as well as wellbeing and cognitive function.

The findings reveal that once factors including age, sex, season during which the tracker was worn, socioeconomic status, smoking status and experience of childhood trauma were taken into account, a low relative amplitude appeared to be linked to poorer mental health. This study, explain researchers, is vital in understanding the balance between rest and activity. Circadian rhythms occur in plants, animals and throughout biology. Shifts in energy levels and sleep disturbances are common during clinical depression and episodes of bipolar disorder.

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

However, the study had limitations, including that the activity data was only collected during one week, and at a different time to the questionnaire data, and that it did not look at teenagers - an important time of life both in terms of mental health and the body clock.

'The next step will be to identify the mechanisms by which genetic and environmental causes of circadian disruption interact to increase an individual's risk of depression and bipolar disorder.

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Disruption of daily rhythms linked to mental health problems