Hamilton researchers find links to postpartum depression and anxiety

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Published January 19, 2022 at 11:05 am

The severity of depressive and anxiety symptoms before and after giving birth may be closely associated with sleep and biological rhythm.

The severity of depressive and anxiety symptoms before and after giving birth is closely associated with sleep and biological rhythm. That’s according to a study conducted at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton.

The three-month period before and after giving birth is a vulnerable time for women’s mental health. It is estimated that 15 to 18 per cent of women experience anxiety and seven to 13 per cent experience depression during this peripartum period. In addition, nearly 10 per cent of women experience clinical levels of concurrent anxiety and depression during this time.


In the largest observational study to date investigating changes in sleep and biological rhythms during the peripartum period, researchers identified several variables that are linked to depression and anxiety. Most notably, changes in the strength of the circadian rhythms, the average amount of activity during nighttime rest, and the amount of fragmentation of nighttime rest were strongly linked to higher depressive and anxiety symptoms.

The findings actually indicate that certain biological rhythms variables may be important to depressive symptoms at specific points along the peripartum timeline. For instance, higher fragmentation of nighttime rest was linked to a decrease in depressive symptoms at six to 12 weeks postpartum – a period that tends to coincide with a higher risk of developing postpartum depression.

“Our findings highlight the importance of stabilizing the internal biological clock during the peripartum period to maintain healthy mood and minimize anxiety,” said Benicio Frey, senior author of the study and professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioural neurosciences at McMaster University. “Given the findings, future efforts should be made to standardize evidence-based interventions targeting these biological rhythms variables identified by our team, either as treatment or prevention strategies.”

Hamilton researchers find links to postpartum depression and anxiety

Dr. Benicio Frey

Frey and his research team conducted the study from the Women’s Health Concerns Clinic at St. Joe’s, which specializes in psychiatric disorders during the peripartum, premenstrual, and perimenopausal periods.

Researchers recruited 100 women, 73 of whom they followed from the start of the third trimester to three months postpartum. They analyzed subjective and objective measures of sleep, biological rhythms, melatonin levels, and light exposure using a variety of tools, including questionnaires, wearable sleep monitors, laboratory assays, and other methods.

The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

Support for the study was provided in part by The Research Institute of St. Joe’s Hamilton and the Teresa Cascioli Charitable Foundation Research Award in Women’s Health.

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