Disruption to your body clock can heighten the risk of mental health problems
17 May, 2018, 03:47
Now, a new research published in The Lancet Psychiatry has found that people who experience disrupted 24-hour cycles of rest and activity are more likely to develop mood disorders, as well as loneliness feelings, and lower levels of happiness.
Interestingly it's not just disrupted sleep that can upset the fine balance of your circadian rhythm, it's also important to be active during the day and inactive at night - so that evening gym session probably isn't for the best.
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 study is the first to objectively measure patterns of rest and activity (using accelerometers), and to have sufficient sample size to assess the effect of circadian disruption on various mental health disorders. With the data, circadian relative amplitude, which is a measure of the extent to which circadian rhythmicity of rest-activity cycles is disrupted, was evaluated.
Daily circadian rhythm is controlled by a collection of neurons in an area of the brain called the hypothalamus.
For the study, researchers measured body clock disruption on 91, 000 middle aged people using wearable monitors.
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.
Based on the observational nature of the study, the researchers were unable to show causality, meaning it is unclear whether the sleep disturbances caused the mental health problems or vice versa.
"It's an exciting time for this kind of research because it's beginning to have some real-world applications", Smith said.
The researchers also looked exclusively at adults between age 37 and 73, meaning the results may not apply to younger individuals, whose circadian rhythms are known to be different than those of older adults, according to Smith.
This study had some limitations.
Measurements were only taken once, so we don't know whether people's activity levels or moods changed over time.
And it didn't take into account other illnesses, many of which can interfere with sleep, such as arthritis and heart disease.
Sleep hygiene - such as turning off screens before bed time and ensuring the bedroom is quiet, dark and cool - can help.
But even if you usually sleep at night, the study found you might not be getting good sleep.
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.