According to a new study, a set of parameters including sleep and biological rhythm variables are closely associated with the severity of depressive and anxiety symptoms, from the third trimester of pregnancy to the third month postpartum.
The three-month period before and after childbirth is a vulnerable period for women’s mental health. It is estimated that 15-18% of women suffer from anxiety and 7-13% suffer from depression during this perinatal period. Additionally, nearly 10% of women experience comorbid clinical levels of anxiety and depression during this time.
In the largest observational study to date of changes in sleep and biological rhythms during the peripartum period, researchers identified several variables linked to depression and anxiety. Specifically, changes in circadian quotient (the strength of circadian rhythms), average amount of activity during nighttime rest, and amount of nighttime rest fragmentation were strongly linked to higher depressive and anxiety symptoms.
“Our findings underscore the importance of stabilizing the internal biological clock during the peripartum period to maintain healthy mood and minimize anxiety,” said Benicio Frey, lead study author and professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Neurosciences. behavioral studies from McMaster University.
“Given the results, future efforts should be made to standardize evidence-based interventions targeting these biological rhythm variables identified by our team, either as treatment or prevention strategies.”
Frey and her research team conducted the study at the Women’s Health Concerns Clinic at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton. This clinic specializes in psychiatric disorders during the peripartum, premenstrual and perimenopausal periods.
The researchers recruited 100 women, 73 of whom they followed from the start of the third trimester to three months after delivery. They analyzed subjective and objective measures of sleep, biological rhythms, melatonin levels and light exposure using various tools, including questionnaires, actigraphs (wearable sleep monitors), tests laboratory and other methods.
Interestingly, the results indicate that certain biological rhythm variables may be important for depressive symptoms at specific points along the peripartum timeline. For example, higher nighttime rest fragmentation was linked to fewer depressive symptoms six to 12 weeks postpartum—a period that tends to coincide with a higher risk of developing postpartum depression.
Support for the study was provided in part by the St. Joe’s Hamilton Research Institute and the Teresa Cascioli Charitable Foundation Research Award in Women’s Health.
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Material provided by McMaster University. Original written by Fram Dinshaw. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.