Irregular sleep and work schedules linked to higher risk of depression and bad moods

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — An essential part of life is maintaining a healthy sleep schedule. Unfortunately, many people don’t always have the luxury of going to bed at the same time or sleeping for the same length of time each night. With that in mind, a recent study finds an ever-changing sleep schedule not only puts you in a bad mood, but may also affect your mental health.

Researchers from the University of Michigan’s academic medical center say an irregular sleep schedule can do a lot of damage to your well-being. Staying up late on most nights and sleeping less can increase a person’s depression risk, according to the findings.

Study authors collected data measuring the sleep and mood of over 2,100 physicians who were new to their careers. The data looked at one year of sleep habits and targeted young adults (average age of 27) who held both a college and medical degree. Researchers tracked the interns’ sleep and other levels through wearable sleep-tracking devices. Participants also recorded their results on a smartphone app and underwent quarterly tests for signs of depression.

Medical professionals are prime candidates for sleep issues

During the first year of residency, medical interns are subject to irregular work schedules and rather difficult workdays. Due to that volatility, this makes it increasingly difficult to maintain a good sleep cycle.

Results show participants with the biggest fluctuations in their sleep schedules were more likely to score higher on depression tests and report having a worse mood. Those who stayed up late or slept less each night also displayed the same issues.

“The advanced wearable technology allows us to study the behavioral 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,” says lead author Yu Fang, in a university release. “Our findings aim not only to guide self-management on sleep habits but also to inform institutional scheduling structures.”

Cathy Goldstein, associate professor of neurology at Michigan Medicine, noted how wearable devices have assisted scientists in furthering sleep studies.

These devices, for the first time, allow us to record sleepover extensive time periods without effort on behalf of the user,” says Goldstein. “We still have questions surrounding the accuracy of the sleep predictions consumer trackers make, though initial work suggests similar performance to clinical and research-grade actigraphy devices which are cleared by the FDA.”

The study adds new insight into the potential harms of irregular sleep cycles and their link to mental health problems. Researchers do note that these particular young adults from the medical community don’t represent the entire population, despite being prime examples of irregular sleep patterns. Researchers hope to see other studies embrace wearable technology to help examine sleep in groups like parents with young children.

The team published their findings in the journal npj Digital Medicine.

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