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Some people use the term “like clockwork” to describe how they feel at certain times of the day. It might be the same time every day they wake up even without the alarm, crave that cup of coffee, feel they are most productive, start to get sleepy, and need to climb into bed. Some researchers believe that these circadian rhythms in the body can help detect depression and even differentiate between acute and chronic stages of depression.

Researchers at the Chronobiology Laboratory in Porto Alegre, Brazil, studied the disruption in circadian rhythms (chronodisruption) and how it was linked to depression. Their study was published in the online journal BMC Psychiatry.

Differences in Chronobiological Variables

Researchers focused on three chronobiological variables in their study: rest/activity, light, and temperature. Over a seven-day period, researchers studied these variables in 30 women. Ten women were not diagnosed with depression, 10 suffered from major recurrent depression and were receiving treatment, and 10 had a first depressive episode and had not yet been treated.

By examining the amplitude of the rhythms, researchers determined that chronodisruption could be used to differentiate healthy patients from patients who were suffering from depression. They also believe that these findings can help them determine the severity of depression in some patients.

1. Rest/Activity Rhythm – For patients who had any signs of depression, either their first episode with depression or chronic depression, their rest/activity rhythm had a decrease in amplitude compared to healthy participants. Researchers found that activity levels decrease as the depression becomes more severe.

2. Light Rhythm – For patients with signs of depression, their light rhythm amplitude was decreased compared to healthy participants.

3. Temperature Rhythm – For patients with depression, their peripheral temperature rhythm had higher amplitude compared to healthy participants. Researchers believe that the amplitude may have been higher due to times when the depressed person had low levels of activity or times when they did not have the energy or interest to get out of bed.

Just the Beginning

Natural circadian rhythms in the body often respond like “clockwork.” Certain times of the day the body is the strongest, can rest the most soundly, or can be most productive. Hormones, blood pressure, and sleep and activity are just some of the circadian rhythms that cycle through the body.

Researchers suggest that these studies on light, temperature, and rest and activity may hopefully produce some information that can help in the diagnosis of depression and the differentiation between the severity of different stages and of the prognosis of depression. There is still more research to be done in this arena of using circadian rhythms to help in diagnosing depression.

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