Disrupted body clock risks mental health issues

Leslie Hanson
May 16, 2018

'Previous studies have identified associations between disrupted circadian rhythms and poor mental health, but these were on relatively small samples'.

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 circadian rhythm disruptions were defined as an increased nighttime activity, decreased daytime activity, or both at the same time. The individuals wore an activity-tracker on their wrist for a week between 2013 and 2015.

The results held true even when the potential impact of factors such as old age, unhealthy lifestyle, obesity, and childhood trauma were taken into account, they reported in The Lancet Psychiatry, a medical journal.

For the large study, the researchers examined activity data of 91,105 people from the United Kingdom who were aged between 37 to 73 years.

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.

For the latest study, researchers analysed activity data on 91,105 people to measure their daily rest-activity rhythms (also known as relative amplitude).


Individuals with a history of disrupting their body's natural rhythm - working night shifts, for example, or suffering repeated jetlag - also tended to have a higher lifetime risk of mood disorders, feelings of unhappiness, and cognitive problems, the researchers found.

"While our findings can't tell us about the direction of causality, they reinforce the idea that mood disorders are associated with disturbed circadian rhythms, and we provide evidence that altered rest-activity rhythms are also linked to worse subjective wellbeing and cognitive ability", says Dr Lyall".

Prof Smith said this study is important on a global scale 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".

People who have their body clock disrupted by being awake at night risk developing mood disorders and depression. As the authors note, the circadian system undergoes developmental changes during adolescence, which is also a common time for the onset of mood disorders.

[1] Quotes direct from authors and can not be found in text of Article. "However, these are observational associations and can not 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".

For the study, researchers measured body clock disruption on 91, 000 middle aged people using wearable monitors.

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