Sleepless nights and disrupted body clocks could be linked to mental health conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, according to research by Professor Russell Foster from the University of Oxford.
People with schizophrenia often complain about sleeping difficulties. It has long been thought that their poor sleep patterns stem from unemployment and the resulting tendency to wake up later than the norm, or are side effects of anti-psychotic drugs. However, Professor Foster and his team have found that they are not down to medication or lifestyle, but in fact due to fundamentals of their physiology.
“The appalling sleep-wake in schizophrenia is independent of medication and social constraints. There is something fundamentally wrong with the body clock of patients with schizophrenia,” says Professor Foster.
Foster’s work suggests that the neural mechanisms of the brain behind mental health and normal sleep overlap and share brain circuits, so if your sleep is disrupted, so is your mental health. Studies of schizophrenia patients have found profound disruptions in their sleep patterns, with half also having irregular body clocks that are out of sync with the pattern of night and day.
Foster’s team also identified a genetic mutation that triggers schizophrenia-like symptoms in mice, which also appears to disrupt their circadian rhythm or body clock.