People who experience disrupted 24-hour cycles of rest and activity are more likely to have mood disorders, lower levels of happiness and greater feelings of loneliness, research suggests.

While the study does not reveal whether disruptions to circadian rhythms are a cause of mental health problems, a result of them or some mixture of the two, the authors say the findings highlight the importance of how we balance rest and activity.

“Because people have these 24-hour patterns of living nowadays and because by 2050 two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities where circadian disruption is much more likely, it is quite a big public health issue. How do we take account of our natural patterns of rest and activity and how do we design cities or jobs to protect people’s mental health?” said Daniel Smith, professor of psychiatry at the University of Glasgow and lead author of the research.

Writing in the journal Lancet Psychiatry, a team of researchers from Scotland, Ireland and Sweden report how they carried out the largest study of its kind to date by harnessing data from the UK BioBank, a research endeavour that has collected health information on 500,000 participants, aged between 37 and 73, since 2006.

“[It collects] 100 movement data points in three dimensions per second over a seven [day] period,” said Smith.

The team then looked at how active individuals were on average during their most active 10 hours each day compared to their least active five hours to calculate a figure known as the relative amplitude.

“What that tells us is about the inconsistency or the disruption in the regularity of the routine of rest and activity,” said Smith. “People who are active during the day and sleep well at night, that is a very healthy profile … they would have a high score in relative amplitude. Whereas people who tend to be disturbed in their sleep, are up a couple of times in the night and conversely tend to be not very active during the day, they score low in relative amplitude.”

– Nicola Davis

Read more: Disruption of Daily Rhythms Linked to Mental Health Problems

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