Circadian malfunctions in depression - neurobiological and psychosocial approaches

Vol. 56 No. 3, 2015


Florina Nechita, Mihail-Cristian Pirlog, Anca Livia Chirita

Depression leads to disturbances in physiological rhythms, which result in disturbances in circadian sleep-wake cycles, hormonal secretion patterns and fluctuations in mood, all of which can be objectively measured. These disturbances, which are associated with depression, can be also used to define depression. Beyond these transversal time-related symptoms, there are the longitudinal time-related symptoms, since depression evolves over a long period of time, with a profound impact on a person s life and is often associated with long-term psychosocial consequences (Mendlewicz, 2010). The circadian rhythm reflects an approximate 24-hour cycle in the biochemical, physiological and behavioral processes of living entities, which crucially influences human well-being and health. Increasing evidence from clinical and neurobiological research suggests that disrupted temporal organization impairs behavior, cognition, mood, sleep and social activity and may be implicated in mental disorders. It has been proposed that circadian malfunction is a major core feature of mood disorders, depression in particular. In depressed patients, circadian rhythms and homeostatic processes are disrupted, thereby affecting mood, sleep, activity and a variety of biological functions such as hormone secretion and body temperature (Hajak and Landgrebe, 2010). Sleep difficulties are among the most current symptoms in depressed patients. Insomnia is often the reason why depressed patients seek help and relief of sleep disturbance may encourage compliance with antidepressant treatment. Apart from the discomfort that sleep problems produce, they may lead to exhaustion, poor functioning and they are associated with an increase in suicide risk (Wilson et al., 2013).

Corresponding author: Mihail-Cristian Pirlog, PhD; e-mail:

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