How not having a set bedtime may affect your mental health

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  • Extensive research indicates that getting enough sleep is crucial for overall health
  • However, limited research is available on how varying bedtimes can affect mental health
  • A new study shows that irregular sleeping patterns can increase one's risk of feeling depressed

Researchers have already established the importance of the amount of sleep one gets when it comes to maintaining health, but how do irregular bedtimes impact one’s health?

A team of researchers at the University of Michigan recently conducted a study that found that not having a regular bedtime routine can negatively impact one’s mental health. 

The relationship between sleep consistency and mood

In order to come to a conclusion, the team assessed the sleep of 2 115 physicians during their first year of training with the aid of wearable devices.

“The advanced wearable technology allows us to study the behavioural and physiological factors of mental health, including sleep, at a much larger scale and more accurately than before, opening up an exciting field for us to explore,” said neurologist Yu Fang. 

Subjects were asked to report their mood via a smartphone app, and their risk for depression was assessed through the nine-item Patient Health Questionnaire (a diagnostic instrument for measuring depression). 

The team found that there is a link between disrupted sleeping patterns and an increased risk of foul moods and even depression.

Regular sleep patterns crucial for mental health

As expected, when participants got more sleep, went to sleep earlier and had consistent sleeping patterns, their moods improved overall. However, when sleep times varied it increased their risk of depression, producing an effect similar to a lack of sleep. 

“These findings highlight sleep consistency as an underappreciated factor to target in depression and wellness,” said Srijan Sen, a neuroscientist who was part of the research team.

The data suggest that being in sync with your natural sleep-wake cycle is just as crucial for mental health as getting sufficient hours of sleep. 

“Our findings aim not only to guide self-management on sleep habits but also to inform institutional scheduling structures,” Fang said. 

In future, the researchers hope to look at people who do not have full control over when they go to bed, or how many hours of sleep they get, such as parents of young children. 

“I also wish my one-year-old could learn about these findings and only wake me up at 08:21 every day,” Fang joked.

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