Schizophrenia Blog

Lack of Sleep Cause of Schizophrenia

Nov 21, 2013, 9:52 pm
It is nothing new that lack of sleep can affect mood, concentration and stress levels. Most people would have experienced this from time to time. But what happens when a person experiences sleep deprivation over a long period of time? Sleep, like food and water, is essential to life and so it is not difficult to understand how a lack of it could translate into some fairly serious problems. It is a concern that sleep disturbances can be found in up to 80% of people living with schizophrenia (according to research at the University of Göttingen, Germany).

 Schizophrenia - Importance of Sleep 

A research team from the University of Bristol, the Lilly Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience recently explored the connection between poor sleep and schizophrenia. The study is interesting because although disturbances are well documented in cases of schizophrenia, no one is quite sure if lack of sleep is a side-effect, or if it is a trigger for schizophrenia.
We have some anecdotal evidence because unfortunately, sleep deprivation has been used as an interrogation technique. In these circumstances it quickly brings on the symptoms of schizophrenia and makes existence very uncomfortable. Could lack of sleep be causal in schizophrenia? 
The Bristol team looked at the rat model during sleep and found some desynchronization of the wave activity that would normally travel from the front of the brain to the back, in particular in the hippocampus and the frontal cortex. These two areas which are involved in memory formation and decision making are already known to be decoupled during wakefulness in people with schizophrenia. Researchers found that the same effect occurs during sleep in the rat model, and believe that this suggests that the sleep disturbances could be a cause, not a consequence, of schizophrenia.
Another study by Cohrs at the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University of Göttingen, Germany in 2008 found a correlation between the degree of sleep disturbances and severity of positive and negative symptoms.
A study by Oxford researchers provides further insight. The study looked at sleep wake patterns of schizophrenia in patients outside of hospital and in the community, over a period of weeks. The study showed that there is a profound disruption of sleep wake timing in people with schizophrenia. This appeared to be independent of any disruption caused by medication, social isolation, or the lack of a job. The researchers also pointed out that the sleep wake timings were associated with immune dysfunction, cognitive disruption and metabolic abnormalities. Dealing with the sleep (or lack of) issue in schizophrenia was seen as a way to at least mitigate some of the secondary symptoms of schizophrenia. 
Researchers were prepared to make some suggestions;
1.     Stabilizing the light and dark cycle
2.     Stabilizing meal times and eating; and
3.     Use of drugs such as melatonin
They commented that cause and effect was not as important as understanding that neurotransmitter pathways were being affected.
The really exciting feature of this research is that it may one day allow us to use sleep as a first warning sign of potential mental health problems. In any event, ensuring we get enough sleep needs to be a priority.

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