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

It's common, uncomfortable—and can impact your mental health more than you might think.

We all feel blue 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 impact your ability to participate in day-to-day life and perform your usual activities. The Mayo Clinic defines depression as "a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest," saying 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 root causes of depression, which are varied and complex. "Scientists have learned much about the biology of depression, but their understanding… is far from complete," the experts at Harvard Health explain. Now, a new study is zeroing in on a phenomenon that many of us experience at night, saying it has "a significant effect on quality of life" and puts one group of people in particular at an increased risk of depression. Read on to find out what it is, and why the study's authors say it's high time that healthcare professionals take it seriously.

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Depression is a global health threat.

Older black man and woman depressed
Shutterstock / Monkey Business Images

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

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People going through menopause are prone to depression.

mature lady crisis - attractive middle aged woman with grey hair sad and depressed in bed feeling scared and lonely thinking worried about covid-19 virus pandemic during home lockdown

The transition to menopause—when a person who menstruates stops getting a monthly period—brings about hormonal changes that are "correlated with an increased risk of depression," according to Everyday Health, which cites a Turkish study published in the Jul. 2020 issue of Menopause. It found that 41 percent of post-menopausal women experienced "some type of depression."

In fact, researchers said that statistic may be "misleadingly low" due to the age of the study participants, and that far more people may suffer from depression during and after menopause.

Night sweats and hot flashes are both common during menopause.

Woman with night sweats

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

Night sweats, she says, are a little different. "Night sweats feel like a sudden wave of heat that spreads throughout your body, followed by heavy sweating, hyperhidrosis, reddening skin, and a rapid heartbeat."

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

depressed woman sitting in bed

Both hot flashes and night sweats are uncomfortable, but is one worse than the other? That's what researchers from the University of Massachusetts aimed to find out when they conducted a study on night sweats, hot flashes, depression, and stress. The study, which was presented during The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) Annual Meeting last week, looked at 200 women experiencing menopause and found that "women who reported the highest hot flash frequency at night had significantly higher depression scores compared with women who had the highest hot flash frequency during other times of the day."

The authors explained that their findings "support previous studies that found that sleep disruptions during menopause have a significant effect on quality of life and suggest that night sweats may have more severe consequences than hot flashes."

"We know that sleep disturbances are one of the biggest detriments for women going through menopause, but these results are unique because they show that women experiencing night sweats, rather than just hot flashes, may be at an even bigger disadvantage," said PhD student Sofiya Shreyer, lead author of the study. NAMS medical director Stephanie Faubion, MD, MBA, added, "This study adds to the growing evidence that menopause symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats can significantly detract from a woman's quality of life and should be taken seriously by healthcare professionals."

Restful sleep is directly related to your quality of life.

Woman sleeping
Stock-Asso / Shutterstock

"This study helps maintain the need to take women's menopausal symptoms seriously," says Shepherd. "Night sweats have a considerable effect on the ability to have restful sleep, which in turn affects quality of life."

If you suffer from night sweats and other troublesome menopause symptoms that may contribute to depression, speak with your healthcare provider about options that may bring you 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 with cooling and moisturizing, glycerin to soothe skin and promote healing, and refreshing eucalyptol."

Disclosure: This post is not supported by affiliate partnerships. Any products linked here are strictly for editorial purposes and will not garner a commission.

Elizabeth Laura Nelson
Elizabeth Laura Nelson is the Deputy Health Editor at Best Life. A mom and a marathon runner, she’s passionate about all aspects of health and wellness. Read more
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