If This Happens to You at Night, Your Risk of Depression Spikes, New Study Says

We all feel sad from time to time, but depression is much more than a run-of-the-mill bad mood. Clinical depression, also known as major depressive disorder, can affect your ability to participate in daily life and do your usual activities. The Mayo Clinic defines depression as “a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest” and says that “it affects how you feel, think, and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems.”

Researchers are still trying to understand the causes of depression, which are varied and complex. “Scientists have learned a lot about the biology of depression, but their understanding…is far from complete,” Harvard Health experts say. Now a new study focuses on a phenomenon many of us experience at night and says it has “a significant impact on quality of life” and puts a certain group of people at increased risk for depression. Read on to find out what it is and why the study authors say it’s high time healthcare professionals took it seriously.

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Depression is a global health threat.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. “Depression differs from common mood swings and short-lived emotional responses to challenges in everyday life,” they write, adding that “it can cause the sufferer to suffer greatly and function poorly at work, school, and in the family. At worst, depression can lead to suicide.” More than 700,000 people die by suicide each year, WHO reports.

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Menopausal people are prone to depression.

The transition to menopause — when a person who is menstruating stops having a monthly period — brings about hormonal changes that “correlate with an increased risk of depression,” according to Everyday Health, which cites a Turkish study published in the issue published in July 2020 Menopause. It found that 41 percent of postmenopausal women experienced “some kind of depression.”

In fact, the researchers said the statistic may be “misleadingly low” because of the age of the study participants, and that many more people may experience depression during and after menopause.

Night sweats and hot flashes are common during menopause.

Many of us probably already know that hot flashes and night sweats are common symptoms of menopause—but what causes them? Jessica ShepherdMD, board-certified OB-GYN and co-founder of menopause wellness brand StellaVia, explains, “Hormonal changes related to reproductive hormones like estrogen and progesterone, as well as thermoregulatory neuron receptor changes, can cause changes in your body temperature that become too hot. Hot flashes are due to changes in both hormones and thermoregulators in the nervous system. When hot flashes occur, the blood vessels near the skin dilate to cool you down, which can make you feel overheated and possibly break a sweat.”

Night sweats, she says, are a little different. “Night sweats feel like a sudden wave of heat spreading throughout the body, followed by profuse sweating, hyperhidrosis, flushing, and a rapid heartbeat.”

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A new study says night sweats are more likely to contribute to depression than hot flashes.

Both hot flashes and night sweats are uncomfortable, but is one worse than the other? That’s what researchers at the University of Massachusetts wanted to find out when they conducted a study on night sweats, hot flashes, depression and stress. The study, presented last week during the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) annual meeting, looked at 200 menopausal women and found that “Women who reported the highest frequency of hot flashes at night had significantly higher depression scores than women who those who did had the highest incidence of hot flashes at other times of the day.”

The authors stated that their findings “support previous studies that have found that sleep disturbances during menopause have a significant impact on quality of life and suggest that night sweats can have more serious consequences than hot flashes.”

“We know that sleep disruption is one of the biggest disadvantages for women going through menopause, but these results are unique because they show that women who experience night sweats, rather than just hot flashes, could be at an even greater disadvantage,” he said the PhD student Sofia Shreyer, lead author of the study. Medical Director of NAMS Stephanie FaubionMD, MBA added, “This study adds to the growing body of evidence that menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats can significantly impact a woman’s quality of life and should be taken seriously by healthcare professionals.”

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Restful sleep is directly related to your quality of life.

“This study helps maintain the need to take menopausal symptoms seriously in women,” says Shepherd. “Night sweats have a significant impact on the ability to get restful sleep, which in turn impacts quality of life.”

If you suffer from night sweats and other uncomfortable menopause symptoms that can contribute to depression, talk to your doctor about options that may provide you with relief. Shepherd recommends StellaVia’s Hot Flash Spritz, which she says “aims to cool and refresh while leaving a youthful glow on the skin, with organic aloe leaf juice to help cool and hydrate, glycerin, to soothe skin and promote healing, and refreshing eucalyptol.”

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