A new study found there may be a link between sleep disturbances and schizophrenia. According to some experts, this research may open the doors to new treatments for patients suffering from the thought disorder.
Russell Foster is a visual and neuroscientist at Oxford. Foster observed numerous studies that cited a possible link between schizophrenia and sleep disturbances. Previous researchers have observed that approximately four out of five patients with schizophrenia also experiences significant sleep problems. However, those problems were often attributed to other causes, such as the side effects of medication or depression resulting from social isolation.
Foster didn’t agree with the arguments presented by his peers. He read additional studies that suggested the correlation may be more of a genetic phenomenon. One of the most definitive studies observed abnormal sleep-wake cycles in mice with a schizophrenia related gene. Foster decided to investigate the link more closely himself.
Foster and some of his colleagues believe that genes related to schizophrenia and other mental health problems may be intertwined with circadian rhythms. For example, the SNAP25 gene plays one of the greatest roles in circadian rhythms. Additionally, researchers have observed some abnormalities in the SNAP25 gene among patients suffering from schizophrenia.
Foster’s study monitored the circadian rhythms in both patients suffering from schizophrenia and those not experiencing the disease. He recruited 20 patients suffering from schizophrenia for his study. He also brought on 21 patients who did not suffer from the disorder, but were unemployed like the schizophrenic patients.
The patients’ movements were tracked with wristwatches over the course of six weeks. They were also required to fill out sleep questionnaires to report sleep problems and provide urine samples to measure melatonin levels ever 48 hours.
The empirical data he collected found that patients suffering from schizophrenia were at an increased risk of developing insomnia. They kept erratic sleep cycles, while the unemployed subjects in the study maintained fairly consistent sleep patterns. Foster told Scientific News provider LiveScience that his research may indicate there is a greater connection between schizophrenia and insomnia than previous researchers could have ever guessed.
[box]Foster stated that the sleep patterns observed in those mice resembled that of the schizophrenic patients in his study. This could indicate that correcting sleep problems would help treat some of the conditions observed in patients suffering from schizophrenia.[/box]
After conducting this research, Foster and some of his colleagues have stated they would like to try new therapies to treat sleep-wake cycles in people suffering from schizophrenia, bipolar and similar psychiatric disorders. They would like to see if these patients symptoms improve if they are able to successfully treat their insomnia.