Circadian rest-activity rhythms during benzodiazepine tapering covered by melatonin versus placebo add-on: data derived from a randomized clinical trial
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Background: Patients with severe mental illness often suffer from disruptions in circadian rest-activity cycles, which might partly be attributed to ongoing psychopharmacological medication. Benzodiazepines are frequently prescribed for prolonged periods despite recommendations of only short-term usage. Melatonin, a naturally occurring nocturnal hormone, has the potential to stabilize disrupted circadian rhythmicity. Our aim was to investigate how prolonged-release melatonin affects rest-activity patterns in medicated patients with severe mental illness and if benzodiazepine dose reduction is associated with changes in circadian rhythm parameters.
Method: Data were derived from a randomized, double-blinded clinical trial with 24 weeks follow-up. Participants were randomized to add-on treatment with prolonged-release melatonin (2 mg) or matching placebo, and usual benzodiazepine dosage was gradually tapered. Here we report the results of 72 h of actigraphic assessment of activity-rest cycles performed pre and post tapering. Changes in rest-activity rhythm parameters between the melatonin and placebo group were analyzed using the univariate general linear model. Change in activity counts per 6 h, from baseline to follow-up, in the whole sample was analyzed using paired samples t-test.
Results: A subsample of 48 patients participated in the actigraphic assessment: 20 in the melatonin group and 28 in the placebo group. Rest-activity cycles varied from regular to highly disrupted. Melatonin significantly increased the interdaily stability and at a trend level decreased the intradaily variability compared with placebo. Benzodiazepine dose reduction was not associated with these circadian rhythm parameters. Activity counts were generally higher after benzodiazepine dose reduction compared with pre tapering, but differences did not reach statistical significance.
Conclusion: Our data suggest melatonin as an aid during benzodiazepine withdrawal for patients distressed by disrupted circadian rest-activity cycles. Benzodiazepine tapering might result in diminished sedentary behavior but further research is needed.