A study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry by an international team of researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and Italy has revealed that individuals with schizophrenia spectrum disorder (SSD) – whether they are residential or outpatient – exhibit disrupted sleep patterns and irregular transitions between sleep and wake cycles.
The study also found that these individuals tend to adhere to excessively rigid daily routines, which can predict worse SSD symptoms and lead to a lower quality of life.
Previous research has already established that people with SSD often experience difficulties falling asleep and have lower sleep quality than those without underlying mental health conditions.
In addition, the use of sedative medications to treat symptoms of SSD has been found to affect sleep patterns by extending the resting time of patients up to 15 hours per day.
This excessive sleep duration can have detrimental effects on the patients’ SSD symptoms, stated Fabio Ferrarelli, associate professor of psychiatry and senior author of the study.
“It’s important to be mindful of how drugs that we prescribe to patients affect their health more broadly,” he said.
“Our study shows that a 12-to15-hour sleep can be harmful, and it’s important to avoid overprescribing sedatives and use the lowest dose possible.”
The study, which involved 250 participants, including nearly 150 residential and outpatient SSD patients, used wristbands to measure participants’ activity and rest throughout the day and night.
Researchers found that individuals with SSD, whether residential or outpatient, had fewer active hours during the day and spent more time sleeping or passively resting compared to healthy controls.
Additionally, the study revealed that residential patients had more disrupted sleep and abrupt changes between rest and activity compared to outpatients.
Residential patients also had more rigid daily routines of rest and activity, which were strongly associated with negative mental health symptoms such as reduced motivation to interact with others and diminished capacity for experiencing pleasure.
According to Ferrarelli, the researchers were somewhat surprised to find consistency between the two patient cohorts. However, they discovered that residential patients had more stable daily routines.
While stable routines are typically viewed as positive, they can become problematic when excessively rigid.
The study found that this rigidity in daily rhythms was strongly associated with greater severity of negative mental health symptoms among residential patients with schizophrenia.