In addition to increased risk of depression and bipolar disorder, lower relative amplitude was also associated with low subjective ratings of happiness and health satisfaction, with higher risk of reporting loneliness, and with slower reaction time (an indirect measure of cognitive ability).
Dr. Laura Lyall, the research's lead author, said that the team had found a "robust association" between the disruption of circadian rhythms and the mood disorders.
If the participants was highly active at late hours, or inactive during the day, this was classed as a disruption, Business Insider reports.
The scientists examined people's circadian rhythms, which control functions such as sleep patterns, immune systems and the release of hormones, to measure daily rest-activity rhythms, also known as relative amplitude.
Messing with the natural rhythm of one's internal clock may boost the risk of developing mood problems ranging from garden-variety loneliness to severe depression and bipolar disorder, researchers said on Wednesday. The disruptions were measured by an accelerometer worn on the subjects' wrists, tracking their levels of activity daily. 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. "But I think what's less well-known and what comes out of this work is that not only is a good night's sleep important, but having a regular rhythm of being active in daylight and inactive in darkness over time is important for mental well-being".
The results held true even after adjusting for a wide range of influential factors including age, sex, lifestyle, education, body mass index, and childhood trauma.
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Researchers in the United Kingdom made the conclusion by studying the circadian rhythm: our waking and sleeping patterns throughout the 24-hour sleep cycle.
They are also likely to feel more lonely and less happy, the study revealed.
Previous studies have identified associations between disrupted circadian rhythms and poor mental health, but these were on relatively small samples.
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"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". The work was funded by a Lister Prize Fellowship to Professor Smith.
However, the researchers say it is still not certain whether an out-of-kilter body clock causes mental health problems, or if the mental health problems are causing disturbances to people's daytime and night-time cycles.