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17 May 2018, 11:10 | Rodolfo Wallace
Disruption to your body clock can heighten the risk of mental health problems
Circadian rhythms are variations in physiology and behaviour that recur every 24-hours, such as the sleep-wake cycle and daily patterns of hormone release.
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.
The researchers found that a one-quintile reduction in relative amplitude correlated with increased risk of lifetime major depressive disorder and lifetime bipolar disorder (odds ratios, 1.06 and 1.11, respectively), as well as with greater mood instability (odds ratio, 1.02), higher neuroticism scores (incident rate ratio, 1.01), more subjective loneliness (odds ratio, 1.09), lower happiness (odds ratio, 0.91), lower health satisfaction (odds ratio, 0.90), and slower reaction times (linear regression coefficient, 1.75).
For the new study, an worldwide team led by Laura Lyall, a University of Glasgow psychologist, 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.
Smith recommended avoiding activities after about 10pm that could disrupt the circadian rhythm, such as using mobile phones or getting up to make a drink.
"This is important globally because more and more people are living in urban environments that are known to increase risk of circadian disruption and, by extension, adverse mental health outcomes".
Earlier research had suggested that disrupting these rhythms can adversely affect mental health, but was inconclusive: most data was self-reported, participant groups were small, and potentially data-skewing factors were not ruled out. This study, explain researchers, is vital in understanding the balance between rest and activity.
To explore the link between mental health and the 24-hour cycles of sleep and activity known as circadian rhythms, the team looked at data from more than 91,000 participants who had worn a wrist-based activity tracker for a week at some point between 2013 and 2015.
Smith explained that this relative amplitude showed that regularity and changes in the routine of rest and activity. Shifts in energy levels and sleep disturbances are common during clinical depression and episodes of bipolar disorder.
The study can not say conclusively that body-clock disturbances are what caused the mental risk, instead of the other way round.
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.
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