Illuminating the impact of habitual behaviors in depression

Chronobiol Int. 2005;22(2):279-97. doi: 10.1081/cbi-200053546.


Researchers have hypothesized that habitual behaviors are zeitgebers for the circadian clock. However, few studies have examined the relationship between habitual behaviors and light, the strongest zeitgeber. Depression is an ideal model in which to explore this relationship because depression is a disorder associated with disruptions in circadian biological activity, sleep, and social rhythms (or patterns of habitual behaviors). We hypothesized that individuals with fewer habitual behaviors have less average exposure to light from morning rise time to evening bedtime and that a reduction in light exposure increases the likelihood of depression. Thirty-nine depressed and 39 never-depressed participants wore an ambulatory light monitor and completed the Social Rhythm Metric over the course of 2 weeks. Linear and logistic regression techniques were used to calculate regression coefficients, and confidence limits based on the distribution of the product of two normal random variables were computed to test the significance of the mediation effect. Infrequent habitual behaviors were associated with a decrease in average levels of light exposure, and low levels of light increased the likelihood of depression. This mediation effect was partial; the overall number of habitual behaviors had a direct relationship with depression above and beyond the association with light exposure. Longitudinal studies are needed to empirically demonstrate the direction of relationships between each of the variables tested.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Behavior*
  • Biological Clocks
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Chronobiology Phenomena
  • Depression / diagnosis*
  • Depression / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Light
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mood Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Mood Disorders / pathology
  • Regression Analysis
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder / pathology
  • Sleep
  • Social Behavior