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Circadian Rhythms in Bipolar Disorder

Many of us have a daily routine. Generally, we have usual times for waking and sleeping, eating, starting chores or work, and even going to the bathroom! Many of these activities include biochemical, psychological, and behavioral processes called circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms play a role in synchronizing all of our bodily systems to optimal phase relationships. How well our circadian rhythms are synchronized may influence our overall psychological and physical health and well-being.

Circadian rhythms are internally self-sustained but may be modified by several environmental factors, or “time-givers.” Time-givers help circadian rhythms stay “in tune” like the many instruments of a great orchestra. The major time-giver to living creatures is daylight. Other time-givers include family and work schedules.

In bipolar disorder, circadian rhythms are sometimes “out of tune,” and scientists do not know exactly how or why that is. If we understand how circadian rhythms are out of tune and how these systems relate to time-givers, then we might be able to improve treatments for bipolar disorder.

To this end, the Circadian Rhythms in Bipolar Disorder (CRBP) Study was initiated with the support of donors to the Depression Center’s Executive Director’s Innovation Fund. Additional support was provided through the Phil Jenkins Award for Innovation in Depression Treatment, awarded to Danielle Novick, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow in psychiatry.

The CRBP Study is designed to be innovative in its use of technology. To gather information about time-givers, participants wear an actiwatch. An actiwatch is a non-invasive, lightweight wristwatch-like device that records physical movement and light exposure. To gather information about mood, participants respond to a daily text message on their cell phone that asks them to rate their mood on a 1 to 10 rating scale. Integrating the text message information with the actiwatch data will provide “real-time” information about the relationship between an individual’s biological rhythms, daily routines and mood.

Participation in the CRBP Study involves completing questionnaires, keeping a sleep and activity diary for two weeks, responding to a daily text message for six weeks, and wearing an actiwatch for two weeks.

This study has received approval from IRBMED: HUM00057251