The notorious evening chronotype and my master’s thesis

Almost every person, healthy or not, suffers from occasional problems with sleep and circadian rhythm. In the modern days of 24/7 smartphone use and transcontinental flights, our internal body clock is having a hard time adjusting to the external cues. For the persons suffering from mental health issues, their impaired sleep cycle can be one of the cornerstone problems of daily living. Sleep problems have been confirmed to be a first symptom, consequence, or even a cause of such psychiatric conditions as major depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, autism, substance abuse, and even aggressive behaviour. Their strong relations, however, have not been studied systematically and broadly just yet.

Why study the circadian rhythm?

Circadian rhythm is our inner clock that regulates a lot of important processes in the human body, including the sleep/wake cycle, the release of hormones and even the way we process medicines. This clock is run by the brain region called the hypothalamus, which piles up a protein called CLK (referring to “clock”), during the daytime. CLK, in turn, activates the genes which make us stay awake, but also gradually increases the creation of another protein called PER. When we have a lot PER, it turns off CLK production and makes us ready to sleep. As CLK is getting lower, this causes a decrease in PER, so that the process starts again with elevating CLK waking us up. This cycle happens at around 24-hour intervals and is greatly influenced by so-called zeitgebers, or time-givers, like light, food, noise and temperature. When our retina neurons catch light waves, the suprachiasmatic nucleus in our brain stops the production of the hormone called melatonin that induces sleep and starts producing noradrenaline and vasopressin instead to wake us. This is the exact reason why you cannot fall asleep after watching a movie at night.

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Figure 1. The smart protein CLK wakes us up and its friend PER gets us to sleep.

Sometimes our body clock fails to function, as in the case of jetlag when we feel bad after changing a time zone or social jetlag when we have to start work early at 8 am. It can go as far as a circadian rhythm disorder meaning you have either a delay or advancement of sleep phases or an irregular or even non-24-hour daily activities preference. However, in the general population, a small variation in the rhythm is quite normal and is usually referred to as a chronotype. It defines your preference of when to go to sleep and do your daily activities and is divided into 3 distinct versions. The radical points of these variations include a morning chronotype, or “larks”, who go somewhat 2-3 hours ahead of the balanced rhythm, and an evening chronotype, or “owls”, who are a little delayed. The larks feel and function better during the first half of the day and go to bed rather early, while the owls prefer to work in the evenings and go to bed and wake up naturally late. The third chronotype is the in-between, balanced version of these two.

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Figure 2. The ‘owls’ seem to have questionable personalities and suffer from psychiatric conditions more often!

What’s my study about?

Previous research has shown that many psychopathologies are linked to an evening circadian preference. For my master thesis research, I am investigating whether we can identify specific profiles in sleep and circadian rhythm problems that are linked to specific mental health problems. There was even a curious study where researchers linked the Dark Triad personalities, which include people with tendencies for manipulation, lack of empathy, and narcissism, to the evening chronotype. Maybe this leaves some evidence for the famous quote that “evil does not rest”. However, there’s a great variation in sleep duration and perceived quality of sleep in patients with various diseases. We hope to divide such persons into more or less accurate groups with a sleep profile that would predict and aid the correct diagnosis of one or the other mental health condition.

The psychopathologies are included in our study as so-called dimensions, which look at each psychiatric syndrome not as with a norm/pathology cut-off but rather as a continuum of symptoms severity. This approach allows us to see if the sleep/circadian profile we identify refers to mental health in general or can be a distinguished part of a certain psychiatric condition. It might be that all dimensions, like depression and autistic spectrum disorders, have an evening chronotype and some non-specific sleep problems. Alternatively, we might find out that a person with symptoms of depression would sleep more or less than average and go to bed later, whereas a person with anxiety would go to sleep later as well but wake up at night very often despite an average summed up sleep duration.

The circadian rhythm changes throughout a lifetime from an early to an evening chronotype towards adolescence and then gradually shift back to the earlier preference with older age. Across the whole lifespan people constantly face varying quality of night sleep. Moreover, each psychiatric condition has a particular age of onset and sometimes changes its character with time. These are the reasons why our study will also look at how the sleep/circadian profiles change within the development phases from children (4-12 years) to adolescents (13-18) to adults (19-64) to the elderly (≥65) and if they affect males and females differently.

Why would it matter?

Should we discover distinct links between the profiles of sleep/circadian problems and certain conditions, other studies can then look into whether these profiles could be the reasons behind developing a mental health condition. It’d be interesting to finally learn what is a chicken and an egg in each profile-disease relation. For instance, should we really treat ADHD patients with melatonin and bright-light lamps instead of stimulants?

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Figure 3. Maybe if we adopt a typical cat’s lifestyle, we get less mental health problems. 🙂

Dina Sarsembayeva is a neurologist and a research master’s student at the University of Groningen. She is using the data from the CoCa project to learn if the chronotypes and sleep problems can be turned into profiles to predict specific psychiatric conditions.

Further reading

  1. Walker, W. H., Walton, J. C., DeVries, A. C. & Nelson, R. J. Circadian rhythm disruption and mental health. Transl. Psychiatry 10, (2020).
  2. Logan, R. W. & McClung, C. A. Rhythms of life: circadian disruption and brain disorders across the lifespan. Nature Reviews Neuroscience vol. 20 49–65 (2019).
  3. Jones, S. G. & Benca, R. M. Circadian disruption in psychiatric disorders. Sleep Med. Clin. 10, 481–493 (2015).
  4. Taylor, B. J. & Hasler, B. P. Chronotype and Mental Health: Recent Advances. Curr. Psychiatry Rep. 20, (2018).

Prevalence and cost of ADHD comorbidity

Do individuals with ADHD more often suffer from depression, anxiety, substance abuse or severe obesity, than individuals without ADHD? Are there differences between men and women in how often this is the case? Does having ADHD in addition to one of these conditions result in higher health care costs?

The short answers to these questions, are yes, yes and yes. In the CoCA-project, researchers have investigated these questions using very large datasets including Scandinavian birth registries that contain information of millions of people. This allows us to get a better understanding of how often conditions occor, how often they occur together, and how often they occur in men vs women. Furthermore, we have investigated health insurance data from Germany to study patterns of health care costs associated with ADHD and its comorbid conditions.

The interpretation of these data is however not simple. That is why we have recorded a webinar with dr. Catharina Hartman from Groningen, The Netherlands. She is the leader of these studies and can explain what these findings can and cannot tell us. The webinar ends with implications for policy makers and health care professionals, based on these findings.

These are the world’s most high ranking experts on ADHD

Who are the most knowledgeable people about ADHD in the world? According to the website expertscape.com, these are professors Stephen Faraone (SUNY upstate University), Samuel Cortese (University of Southampton) and Jan Buitelaar (Radboud University Nijmegen).

What’s more, several scientists who are involved in our research consortia that investigate ADHD (i.e. Aggressotype, CoCA, IMpACT, Eat2beNICE) are top-ranked in this list of more than 30.000 possible experts in the field. These include Stephen Faraone, Jan Buitelaar, Philip Asherson, Barbara Franke, Joseph Antoni Ramos-Quiroga, Henrik Larsson, Catharina Hartman and Pieter Hoekstra. What this means is that the ADHD research that we do, and that is often reported on in this blog, is lead by the world’s top ADHD experts.

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‘Our’ top-ranked ADHD experts. From left-to-right: Stephen Faraone, Jan Buitelaar, Philip Asheron, Barbara Franke, Joseph Antoni Ramos-Quiroga, Henrik Larsson, Catharina Hartman, Pieter Hoekstra.

How is an expert defined?

The website expertscape was started by John Sotos when he was looking for an expert on Parkinson’s disease to treat his uncle. This turned out to be more difficult than he thought. As John Sotos was a doctor himself, he luckily had a large network of doctors that he could contact about this. But this made him realise that people who don’t have such a network, would not be able to find out who the most knowledgeable persons are on a particular topic. He therefore created this website expertscape.com

The way the website works is quite simple: it searches for academic, peer-reviewed publications by a certain person on a certain topic. The more someone has published on a topic, the higher this person is ranked. Thus,  “[a]n expert is not just someone who knows a lot about a particular topic. We additionally require that the expert write about the topic, and be involved at the leading edge of investigation of the topic.”

This means that the site is actually not a very good tool to find a good doctor. As the website acknowledges “a great doctor has many important qualities beyond expert knowledge of your very specific medical condition.” However, it does mean that the website is pretty good at providing a simple overview of who has a lot of scientific knowledge about a specific topic.

So are they really experts?

In the past years I have met with most people in the top of this list, and I dare say that they are very knowledgeable indeed. Each of them has been working in the ADHD field for a considerable amount of time and has added important new insights into ADHD through research and publications. What I find most striking from this list however, is that most of these experts work together in consortia and international networks. And that is how the field really moves forward: by combining the knowledge of all these experts.

Several of these experts have also written for this blog:

 

Source: http://expertscape.com/ex/attention+deficit+disorder+with+hyperactivity

 

This blog was written by Jeanette Mostert. Jeanette studied brain connectivity in adult ADHD during her PhD. She is now dissemination manager of the international consortia CoCA and Eat2beNICE.