Previous research has identified associations between circadian disruption and poor mental health, but these were typically based on self reports of activity and sleeping patterns, had small sample sizes, or adjusted for few potential confounders.
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. People with less of a distinction between active and resting periods scored a lower amplitude, either because they were not active enough during while they were awake or too active in the hours intended for sleep.
That is the discovery from a study of more than 90,000 people by the researchers at the University of Glasgow.
Dr Laura Lyall, the study's lead author, said the team had found a robust association between disruption of circadian rhythms and mood disorders.
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"Especially in the winter, making sure you get out in the morning in the fresh air is just as important in getting a good night's sleep as not being on your mobile phone", said Smith. The internal clock figures out the current time of the day by using the cues from sunlight and then transmits the information to the peripheral clocks located in the entire body. Those with lower relative amplitude were at greater risk of mental health problems regardless of age, sex, lifestyle, education and previous childhood trauma.
"By 2030, two-thirds of the world's population will be living in cities, and we know that living in an urban environment can be pretty toxic to your circadian system because of all the artificial light that you're exposed to", Smith said. "However, these are observational associations and can not tell us whether mood disorders and reduced wellbeing cause disturbed rest-activity patterns, or whether disturbed circadian rhythmicity makes people vulnerable to mood disorders and poorer wellbeing". "Hopefully, that will protect a lot of people from mood disorders".
But the findings "reinforce the idea that mood disorders are associated with disturbed circadian rhythms", said Lyall.
It is best to stop using smartphones after around 10pm, according to a sleep expert. "And from my point of view as a psychiatrist, I think it's probably under-recognized in psychiatry how important healthy circadian function is, but it's an area that we're trying to develop".