FLAME University


FLAME in the news

The Intersection of Women’s Mental Health and Circadian Rhythms in a 24/7 World

www.womenshine.in | April 12, 2024

Considering the ambiguous lines between day and night in today’s 24/7 environment, it is critical to comprehend the complex interplay between women’s mental health and circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms, or internal body clocks, control the sleep-wake cycle and affect various physiological functions, including mood management. Circadian rhythms also greatly impact mental health. Women have specific hurdles as a result of hormonal variations throughout their reproductive lives, which can alter circadian rhythms and aggravate mental health concerns (Walker et al., 2020). This piece examines the disparities in circadian rhythms between men and women and the ramifications for women’s mental health.

Circadian rhythms play an important role in mental health, with disturbances frequently connected to mood disorders including depression, and anxiety (Bechtel, 2015; Difrancesco et al., 2019; Boyce et al., 2010).  The association between depression and sleep disorders is very strong, where difficulty in failing to sleep generates irritability and anxiety, which then feeds into a woman’s depression. Additionally, perimenopausal and menopausal women with hot flushes are more likely to develop depression along with lower quality of sleep.

These rhythms work in tandem with environmental stimuli such as light and darkness to maintain a consistent sleep-wake cycle. When interrupted, they can cause disruptions in mood, cognition, and general mental well-being (Waddington Lamont et al., 2007).  Researchers have found that women’s circadian rhythms differ from men’s (Duffy et al., 2011). Men’s circadian rhythms normally follow a 24-hour cycle controlled by the suprachiasmatic nucleus in the brain. This internal clock responds to light signals, which influence sleep-wake cycles, hormone secretion, and body temperature. Testosterone levels rise in the morning, supporting alertness, while cortisol follows a similar pattern, assisting with wakefulness and energy control throughout the day (Krauchi & Wirz-Justice, 1994). The suprachiasmatic nucleus regulates women’s circadian rhythms, following a 24-hour cycle. However, hormonal changes that happen with menstruation, pregnancy, perimenopause, and menopause can all have an impact on their rhythms. Estrogen and progesterone fluctuations influence sleep quality, energy, and mood, perhaps influencing changes in circadian rhythms throughout the month. In addition, societal constraints and caregiving duties frequently stress women, affecting their capacity to maintain good circadian cycles and mental health (Mallampalli & Carter, 2014; Baker and Driver (2007).

The link between circadian rhythms and women’s mental health is significant, especially in the setting of shift employment. Women are disproportionately represented in shift work and frequently struggle to manage work and household commitments, resulting in chronic sleep deprivation and increased stress (Ferri et al., 2016; Mikyeong & Hyeonkyeong, 2017). Circadian rhythm abnormalities might worsen pre-existing mental health concerns or predispose women to developing severe mood disorders. The frequency of shift employment in modern culture complicates the link between women’s mental health and circadian rhythms. Many women balance shift work (in call centers/BPOs, healthcare facilities, the hospitality industry, manufacturing sectors, etc.) and family duties, which leads to inconsistent sleep habits and an increased risk of mental health conditions (Hyeonkyeong, 2017). Shift work disturbs the body’s normal circadian cycles, which may contribute to mood disorders, cognitive impairment, and increased stress among female workers.

Addressing the issues women have in regulating their circadian cycles and mental health necessitates a diverse strategy. Workplace rules should prioritize flexible scheduling alternatives and enough rest intervals to meet the special demands of female employees. Educational programs can help women prioritize sleep hygiene and advocate for their health. Furthermore, healthcare professionals must recognize the issues like hormonal fluctuations, pregnancy-related sleep disturbances, postpartum depression/ anxiety, etc. that women confront in terms of circadian rhythms and mental health.

Tailored treatments, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia and hormone therapy, can assist women suffering from circadian disturbances, relieve their symptoms, and improve their sleep quality (Rossman, 2019; Rosenberg et al., 2021). Healthcare professionals must recognize the gender-specific elements of circadian rhythm disorders and provide targeted therapies to assist women’s mental health successfully. Acknowledging patriarchy’s impact, it’s vital to understand how societal norms shape gender-specific experiences, such as circadian rhythms and mental health. In India, patriarchy has a significant impact on gender-specific experiences, including circadian rhythms and mental health. Traditional roles restrict women to caring, while restricted access to education and jobs fosters dependency and inequity. Healthcare inequities and stigma impede the identification and treatment of women’s health concerns. Gender-based violence exacerbates mental health issues by typically silencing victims and continuing patterns of abuse. Addressing these structural difficulties necessitates programs that question gender norms, promote equality in education and work, increase healthcare access, and prevent violence against women (Jayachitra & Jagannarayan, 2021). These patriarchal traditions frequently discount women’s sleep disorders, perpetuating silence through cultural taboos. Structural changes within society and families are critical for addressing gender gaps, including fostering open discourse, giving resources, and campaigning for legislative reform. Empowering women to prioritize their own well-being and seek help is critical for breaking the silence and enhancing overall health. Empowering women to prioritize their own well-being is critical for creating inclusive settings in which everyone can thrive. Developing targeted interventions informed by these differences is essential for bolstering women’s well-being within systemic challenges and inequalities (Banerjee et al., 2021).

As we navigate our 24/7 world, it’s crucial to prioritize policies and practices that empower women to maintain healthy sleep patterns and optimal mental health. By addressing the intersection of circadian rhythms and women’s mental health, we can create a more inclusive and supportive environment for all individuals to thrive.

Author: Prof. Ketoki Mazumdar, Faculty of Psychology, FLAME University

(Source:- https://womenshine.in/the-intersection-of-womens-mental-health-and-circadian-rhythms-in-a-24-7-world/ )