Severe mood dysregulation: in the “light” of circadian functioning.
Severe affective and behavioral dysregulation, labeled as severe mood dysregulation (SMD), is a widely spread phenomenon among adolescent psychiatric patients. This phenotype constitutes severe impairment across multiple settings, including various symptoms, such as non-episodic anger, mood instability, and hyperarousal. Moreover, SMD patients often show depression and reduced need for sleep. Despite a lifetime prevalence of 3.3%, systematic research is still scarce, and treatments that have been established do not account for the range of symptoms present in SMD. Considering the circadian dysfunctions, two hormones, melatonin and cortisol, are essential. When these hormones are dysregulated, the circadian rhythm gets out of synchrony. Since evidence is emerging showing that the worse the sleep-wake cycle is entrained, the worse the psychiatric symptoms are depicted, the importance of proper circadian functioning becomes clear. Chronotherapy as the controlled exposure to environmental stimuli (e.g. light) acting on biological rhythms has shown therapeutic effects. In both seasonal and major depression chronotherapy has been implemented, decreasing depressive symptoms and stabilizing circadian rhythms. Preliminary evidence from SMD related disorders, namely attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and pediatric bipolar depression, indicates that morning light therapy elicits positive influences on other symptoms as well. Hence, light therapy might not only be effective for depressive symptoms and circadian rhythms, but might also be beneficial for symptoms including inattention and irritability. We hypothesize that light therapy might be a helpful adjunctive treatment enhancing affective and circadian functioning, and eliciting positive influences on behavior. Physiologically, changes of both cortisol levels and melatonin production are expected.