Study links sleep problems to schizophrenia
by Elizabeth Walling
January 21, 2012
Getting quality sleep could be a vitally important piece for solving the puzzle of mental health. Previous studies have linked poor sleep to depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety and ADHD. Now for the first time, research also shows a strong link between schizophrenia and sleep disturbances.
The study followed twenty individuals with schizophrenia, and compared their sleep patterns to those in a control group of 21 healthy individuals. Every single participant with schizophrenia experienced extreme sleep disturbances, independent of medication and social isolation.
The study group had trouble falling asleep, spent more time in bed, slept longer and experienced far more variable sleep patterns than those in the control group. Half of the study participants had irregular body clocks, often sleeping in the day while being awake and alert at night.
Professor Russell Foster of Oxford University says, “For a long time people have noted that sleep is disrupted in mental health, but it has always been assumed to be associated with medication or the fact that they are socially isolated and, as a result, it has been largely dismissed.”
The study is unique because researchers examined sleep patterns of patients in a community setting rather than under hospital care. Also important is the length of the study: rather than only studying sleep patterns for a few days, this study attempts to give a fuller, more accurate picture by tracking sleep data over a period of weeks.
Sleep is vital for mental health
We all know that sleep is important, but many of us may underestimate the impact sleep disturbances can have on our health, especially our mental health and moods.
Roseanna Sharville, a second year experimental psychology student, says: “Like food and water, sleep is crucial for all living, breathing things. Intuitively, therefore, it certainly seems possible that long-term sleep disturbances could cause severe physical and mental health problems.”
While some may quibble over cause versus effect, it may be as simple as how sleep impacts our brain chemicals. Foster says, “I think you have to think about it as common neurotransmitter pathways that are being affected.”
He also adds, “But regardless of whether or not there is a mechanistic link between the body clock and psychiatric conditions, it is clear that treating sleep problems could improve the lives of many patients.”
Researchers in the study suggest that improving sleep quality should be included in psychiatric care because of the potential benefits it could produce.
The study was led by Oxford University and was published online by the British Journal of Psychiatry.
About the author: Elizabeth Walling is a freelance writer specializing in health and family nutrition. She is a strong believer in natural living as a way to improve health and prevent modern disease. She enjoys thinking outside of the box and challenging common myths about health and wellness. You can visit her blog to learn more: www.livingthenourishedlife.com/2009/10/welcome.html
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